In the first photos posted to Facebook after he was located, Percy Poucachiche is visibly gaunt and wearing an orange reflective jacket, with one Quebec provincial police officer holding onto each arm.
Poucachiche, a 26-year-old member of the Lac Simon First Nation in Western Quebec, was reported missing over a month ago.
The Surete du Quebec (SQ) confirmed with APTN News that Poucachiche was found “relatively safe and sound” near Lac Simon on Tuesday evening, and was transported to hospital for evaluation.
According to the SQ, bystanders reportedly heard cries for help coming from somewhere along the shores of Lac Simon, a body of water within the community bounds of Lac Simon First Nation, and called 911.
Lac Simon Chief Adrienne Jerome told APTN it was a group of teens out on a night walk who first heard the distress calls coming from across the lake.
She said police arrived at the scene and recovered Pouchachiche within 15 minutes.
“There was a lot of emotion this morning – people were crying from joy,” Jerome explained. “And also because they’ve found Percy – but he’s not the same Percy. He’s lost so much weight.
“That’s the question people are asking this morning: how did he get to the other side of the lake? Did he swim? Did he take a canoe, get lost in a canoe? We don’t know,” she added.
According to the SQ, Poucachiche was last seen at his home in a wooded area near Route 117 and Route 113 in Louvicourt, near Val d’Or, on July 21.
Jerome recalled it being a pow-wow weekend in Lac Simon when the community started buzzing with news of Poucachiche’s disappearance.
According to Jerome, suspicions were only raised when Percy’s mother found his campsite empty, with provisions untouched.
“We have a big-time housing shortage, and youth want to distance themselves from the community because of what’s going on – addiction, like in most other communities or cities – so Percy decided to leave,” Jerome explained.
At the time of his disappearance, the Poucachiche family said they had “reason to fear for [Percy’s] health and safety.”
In response, the SQ deployed ground and aerial search teams, as well as canine teams, in hopes of locating him.
The search effort also included a mass mobilization of at least three Anishinaabe communities located within the dense, sprawling woods of the La Verendrye Wildlife reserve.
Lac Simon, for their part, offered food, water, and gas to all members offering to pitch in with the search efforts.
According to an Aug. 1 press release from the Anishinaabe Nation of Lac Simon, council employees were also offered paid time off to participate in the search.
Jerome said all of the search teams spent the better part of four weeks searching the wrong area.
“Everyone was searching on our side of the lake – no one thought to look on the other side of the lake,” she added.
Meanwhile, Surete du Quebec investigators will be meeting with Poucachiche in the coming days to “shed light” on the events of the last four weeks.
Despite the physical toll of the last month, Jerome said Percy will likely be discharged from hospital within the next 24 hours.
“His feet were sore when they found him – but the rest of the story, we don’t know,” she added.
Children from the Anishinaabe communities nestled within the borders of the La Verendrye Wildlife Reserve have gotten lost in the woods before, and often learn at a young age how to forage and subsist on the land, Jerome said.
For this reason, Percy’s rescue instils a sense of pride in her community.
“What we’re teaching our kids in elementary and high school – it’s helping them,” she added.
In the meantime, those who followed the four-week saga are expressing relief at the news.
The series of Facebook photos announcing Poucachiche was found has been shared more than 540 times as of this posting.
“I have chills, I’m so happy,” one comment reads.
“What a relief for his mother,” reads another. “She was dreaming of her son being found along the riverbank.”