One Friday evening in May 1976, an incident caused a lot of commotion on Flowers Road, which is off George Swindell Road and Highway 196, in Long County. The ordeal was something that no family ever wants to go through.
Larry and Mary Lynn Flowers had just recently moved back to Larry’s boyhood home to take care of his ailing mother, Alma Flowers, and his uncle, Oliver Flowers. The family moved from Birmingham, Alabama, where Larry was the manager of a large freight company. All of the household goods had not been delivered yet and on that evening, Larry was driving from Birmingham with another load of the family’s possessions. There were four children in the family — Marlene, 16, Jeannette, 14, Michael, 12, and little Mark, 3. Even though they had only been back on the farm for about six months, little Mark already loved the country, especially being able to go outside and play. He enjoyed romping around with the dogs and picking dewberries.
One day, the school bus stopped in front of the Flowers’ gate and the three older children got off the bus. They saw Mark sitting in the front yard playing with his Uncle Oliver’s two dogs. They spoke to Mark and made a beeline to the kitchen for a snack. After a little while, Mary asked, “Where is Mark?”
Jeannette said, “Mama, when we got off the bus, he was in the yard playing with Jaws.”
They looked around inside and outside the house but could not find him. They checked the road and repeatedly called for him, but they heard and saw nothing.
It was May and the weather was warm during the day when the sun was shining, but when sundown came, a chill set in quickly. And that day — of all days — it began raining, and that cold downpour lasted all night.
Mark’s sister, Marlene, said she got scared when she saw people streaming into her family’s house. Her mother had started placing calls, and word spread like wildfire. Clayton Walker was the first to arrive. Soon after, Long County Sheriff Cecil Nobles and his deputies arrived. Fort Stewart was notified and two contingents of Rangers, numbering 200, volunteered to spend their weekend free time searching for the child. Capt. J.B. Swindell, a local man, was there and “took the bull by the horns” to get an organized search going. The Liberty County Civil Defense set up a canteen, and grocery stores and churches donated food to keep searchers going. The Game and Fish Commission and the Department of Revenue assisted. Liberty and Tattnall counties’ civil-defense units, the National Guard, track dogs from the Reidsville State Prison and many individual volunteers from Long, Tattnall and Liberty counties pitched in to help. Horse clubs with members on horseback and motorcyclists joined the hunt. There were over 500 people searching for the 3-year-old child.
Marlene told me that sometime during the night, her daddy came home and saw all the vehicles in the road and around the house. He thought his mother had died. He had not been notified because he was on the road and there were no cell phones back then. Immediately, he joined the search.
Jeanette said, “I walked back to the house, and it was dark on the porch. Two older men were sitting on the porch and talking. I did not know them, and they certainly didn’t know me. I overheard one say, ‘Do you know how long it takes for a rattlesnake to kill a grown man after it bites him? Just a few hours.’ And then the other said, ‘Yeah, I know, but you know there are gators all out in that swampy area and they can eat a young’un alive quickly!’ My heart almost stopped beating. I had not thought of all that as I had lived in Birmingham and Atlanta, and there were no gators and rattlesnakes there. That is when I really became overcome with fear.”
There were many ladies at the house doing what they could to console them.
“We went over there as soon as we heard about it. Ronnie went straight to the woods to help search. I stayed and tried to console Mary and the girls and tell them that everything would be all right. I prayed hard this would be the case. Mary was so worried and upset that she finally went to her bedroom, closed the door and lay across the bed. Exhausted, she cried until she went to sleep,” Margie DeLoach recalled.
After 18 horrendous hours of searching, James Elders spotted a little boy near his home, about 2 miles from the Flowers’ residence. It was 10 a.m. Saturday morning. Some say the child was lying in a ditch of water or in a fire-ant bed. Elders asked the child his name, and he replied, “Mark Ours.”
Quickly, the family was notified. Mark and his dog, Jaws, had spent the long time together in the cold, drenching rain and dark without anything to eat or drink. The toddler was covered with insect bites and scratches from the underbrush but otherwise unharmed. When asked by one of the searchers if he wanted to go home, Mark calmly answered, “Yes, I’m ready to go home.”
I can only imagine the hugs and kisses he received from his family when he arrived home. He was starving and ate a big bowl of cereal and milk, a plate of grits and eggs, and he drank nonstop.
Brig. Gen. Donald Rosenblum sent his private helicopter to pick up Mark and transport him to Winn Army Community Hospital for a complete checkup. Other than being dehydrated, he was fine.
Madge Sewell, a reporter from the Ludowici News, interviewed the family a few days later. The boy held his puppy as he spoke with the reporter. He told her he could hear his mother calling him, but he couldn’t yell loudly enough to be heard. He mentioned seeing his uncle drive by during the search, but Mark was too short to be seen through the underbrush.
Mark’s mother, Mary, died after a battle with lung cancer in 2004. Larry, 75, has been married to Lorraine Caison for 15 years and still lives on Flowers Road. Marlene is an associate director of developmental disabilities services at Gateway Behavioral Services and lives in Jesup. She is the mother of two grown children and has four grandchildren. Jeannette is married to the Rev. Tommy Ray, pastor of Popular Head Church, and lives in Glennville. They have five children, including two sets of twins. Most of her children are connected to the ministry. Michael has one daughter, is in the Georgia National Guard and works at MATES on Fort Stewart.
Now, what ever happened to the wandering little boy? Well, he graduated from Long County High in 1991, attended Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College and Georgia Southern. He earned his master’s degree and a six-year certificate. He met Lisa Atkins at GSU and they married on May 16, 1998. She is from Augusta, but her parents now live on St. Simons. Lisa has a bachelor’s of science in nursing and a nutritionist’s degree. Mark and Lisa live in Waynesboro, where he has been a teacher and coach for the past 18 years at Burke County High. He was named a STAR teacher at two schools. He is a deacon in the church, a men’s ministry leader and he runs the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Technology Students Association programs.
Mark still loves dogs and football. He is a great family man, and he and Lisa are the parents of four children — Mallory, Murray, Liz and Marshall. Mally is a special-needs child and her mother home-schooled her for years. Now a freshman, she does half days at public school and still is home-schooled the second half of the day. Two of the other kids are in gifted programs. Lisa has been teaching at special-needs preschool at their church and Mally helps her. Mark and Lisa are advocates for special-needs children.
I asked Mark what he still remembers about that long night in 1976.
He said, “I remember bits and pieces. One of biggest memories is of being scared. My dog, Jaws, stayed beside me the whole time. The other dog ran back home. People thought for sure that I would be found dead. I remember Mr. Elder talking to me in his yard and taking me to the search party. I remember the helicopter and them taking X-rays of me at Winn Army Hospital.”
I agree with his sister Marlene, who said, “We were so blessed to get him back. God saved him that night for His service.”
I think God must still be smiling down on Mark.