SHANNON COUNTY, Mo. – A group of middle schoolers led by two high school seniors were found after an hours-long search near the Roger Pryor Pioneer Backcountry south of Echo Bluff State Park in Shannon County.

Thirteen 7th graders from John Burroughs School in St. Louis embarked on an outing in a wooded area of Shannon County with two high school seniors to practice orienteering- the use of a map and compass. When they didn’t return to camp Tuesday evening September 26, school officials alerted authorities.

Just before dawn on Wednesday, the students were found.

“We are relieved, and also very proud of our students. They showed incredible resourcefulness and maturity when they realized they were losing daylight faster than they could safely return to base camp.” Reads a statement by the John Burroughs School, “They followed their training protocols by setting up an overnight camp, supporting each other, and waiting for help. Many thanks to the search and rescue teams for their quick actions. The entire Burroughs community is grateful. We are reviewing our trek protocols to ensure this type of situation is avoided in the future.”

Shannon County Sherrif’s Department, Missouri State Park Rangers, the National Park Service, Missouri State Highway Patrol, Timber Community Volunteer Fire Department, Howell County Sheriff’s Department, Missouri Department of Conservation, Birch Tree Volunteer Fire and Rescue, and the AmeriCorps volunteer organization worked together to assist in the search, while Mercy EMS and the Shannon County First Responders provided medical support.

The Shannon County Dispatch staff worked through the night to keep the search party organized and deliver resources as needed.

“It was a long night, that’s for sure,” said Molly Ice, a Shannon County First Responder from Winona, “We have some wonderful first responders and police.”

“They get an A-plus for outdoor survival skills,” said National Park Service Chief Ranger Lindel Gregory. They were found using a thermal imaging drone, operated by Deputy Matt Foster of the Howell County Sherriff’s Department. This device, mounted to a drone, detects heat sources from a distance. They were located on a gravel bar on Big Creek near Dugan’s Bluff.

“The Shannon County First Responders stepped into action right away, worked thoughtfully and compassionately with our staff on-site, and did a wonderful job helping our students,” said Andy Abbott, head of the school. “We had very many nervous families and teachers, and it was wonderful to get the news that all fifteen students were safe and healthy.”