SUMTER COUNTY, Fla. — After nearly 24 hours of searching for a non-verbal autistic teen, a Sumter County deputy and his K-9 found Peyton Pickard alive in neck deep water, covered in bug bites.

What You Need To Know

  • A Sumter County deputy discovered a missing teen

  • It was possible thanks to a K-9 officer on the case

  • The teen is home with his father, and is expected to be ok.

“Some angels come with wings, this one comes with four legs and floppy ears,” said Deputy Robert Mata, Sumter Co. Sheriff’s Office.

A sense of ease comes after nearly 24-hours searching for 16-year-old Peyton Pickard.

“I was relieved,” said Mata, “felt all their pressure. Everyone waiting for me thinking, ‘Hey, is he going to find him?’”

Mata and his K-9 partner Indy are the duo that found Peyton in neck deep water Tuesday evening. But it wasn’t just the swampy environment that was a challenge for search and rescue. Peyton was non-verbal.

The game changer was having a Scent Evidence K-9 kit to give to law enforcement for K-9 Indy and others to track. Twenty-two hours after Peyton was reported missing, Mata and his K-9 partner Indy picked up on a scent.

“We finish turning around the tree, everything stops, and I see Peyton just there in the water. He’s shivering,” said Deputy Mata, “I go ‘oh my goodness’, I start yelling and yelling, I get on the radio. It was surreal.”

Three months on the job, K-9 Indy is already saving lives. The bond between the two partners has only grown since the rescue.

“It was a great day. For her and for us because this is her first find. I’ve had her for three months; my goal was to get her a find within her year. So, we accomplished it,” said Mata.

While it’s part of the job, for Mata and K-9 Indy, it’s nice knowing their work saved a life.

Peyton is expected to be okay and is home now with his father.

K-9 Indy was donated by Tallahassee-based Scent Evidence K-9. It was also their scent evidence kit that allowed Peyton to be found by the Indy.

“My wife looked at me and said that dog could save somebody’s life. We need to give him to [Sumter Co. Sheriff’s Office] so he can save a life. [Office Robert Mata] called me as he was coming out of the woods with Peyton. There’s nothing like that,” said Paul Coley, CEO, Scent Evidence K-9.

Orange and Sumter County citizens can go to their sheriff’s office to get a free scent kit. Other counties, like Lake Co. have similar programs under different names. Contact your local sheriff’s office for more information.