Accolades continue to roll in for law enforcement's rescue efforts in locating the "miracle" baby in the Lolo National Forest last year.

Few cases, if any, in Missoula during 2018 were more memorable: A family member wildly high on drugs had left the 5-month-old boy there partially buried, while law enforcement scanned the 2 million-acre woods for more than six hours before finding him.

Bureau of Land Management Ranger Kelly Cole was awarded for his role in that effort this month, named the BLM's Ranger of the Year for 2018. Cole received the award at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., as part of the bureau's observance of National Police Week.

Reached by phone this week for comment about the award, Cole was humble.

"To be honest with you," he said, "it's hard to accept the award. It's humbling, just for the sake of the fact that just seeing this kid alive was all worth it."

City, county, state and federal law enforcement scrambled into the woods that day last July, finding Francis Crowley and, separately, the baby, who aside from some minor scratches and a soiled diaper, was relatively unharmed. 

Cole, the only BLM law enforcement officer in the Missoula area, said his relationship with local law enforcement allowed his role in the effort to be a meaningful one. A BLM officer since 2007 who landed in the Missoula area four years ago, Cole said the sheriff's office here "adopted me."

"There's something unique about the law enforcement community in Missoula," he said. "All the departments in this county, it's just amazing the relationships we have, and we help each other out."

Cole, also a field training officer, and a trainee were working together that day when a report came from the Lolo Hot Springs about an unruly man threatening people with a gun. They arrived and began by taking the direction set by the sheriff's office command post, rooting through the woods one grid at a time. 

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At one point, Cole and his trainee came upon the camp inhabited by Crowley and family. Nearby, at what Cole described as an "overlook point" near the entrance of camp, they found a shotgun.

"So we saw this shotgun, everything tied that shotgun back to (Crowley)," Cole said. 

Crowley was already a felon at that time. Several shells around the camp had already been spent. 

The rest of the story has been told: Missoula County Sheriff's Deputy Ross Jessop and U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officer Nick Scholz located the baby alive; Crowley was arrested, charged, and later convicted on child endangerment charges. He now faces a federal charge related to the shotgun Cole and his trainee found. That case is ongoing.

Sholz and Patrick Legg, another U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officer on the scene that day, were awarded during National Police Week as well for their efforts.

It was nearly 5:30 a.m. when Cole finished logging the shotgun into evidence and filed the reports. Rather than heading home, he went to the hospital, whether other law enforcement officers were spending time with the baby.

"I've been around drownings before where kids have been involved, fall into a river and we're frantically searching for the kids, coming up with heartbreak in the end," Cole said. "So this was really special."

It wasn't the search and rescue effort alone last July that earned Cole the Ranger of the Year honor. His role as a field training officer is mentioned in a release about the award from BLM, as well as a November incident in which he responded to a county sheriff's report of a man threatening violence, and successfully talked the man down.

"It's not just BLM, he's a member of the local law enforcement team, which I think is important," Missoula BLM Field Office Manager Joe Ashor told the Missoulian. "The bottom line is Kelly consistently goes above and beyond the line of duty. He shows compassion when needed and the tough side when needed as well."

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