As Chuck Bianchi cooked breakfast for his wife and daughter around 6 a.m. on Jan. 19, he saw someone dart past his front door in between the driveway and his attached garage. Bianchi glanced out his back window to catch a glimpse of the person running through his yard. But he was long gone.
“I saw a human being run through there that morning,” Bianchi said in an interview with The Collegian. “I went to look, but I didn’t see anything. At the time, I didn’t think anything of it.”
On Jan. 20, less than 36 hours later, Chuck Bianchi said that his wife — Probate Judge Michelle Bianchi — found 9-year-old Jace Lyon in their basement, crammed under a tiny white desk, terrified for his life.
Lyon ran away from home late the night of Jan. 18. He stayed hidden in the Bianchi’s basement for two days as the local police, county sheriff’s office, dogs, helicopters, hundreds of community volunteers, and even the FBI searched for him.
“When we found him, he was…he was just so scared,” Chuck Bianchi said. “He was shaking. My wife coaxed him out and carried him upstairs to our couch. He was looking at us with this expression that just said ‘Help me. Please.’”
According to court documents obtained by MLive.com, Jace was a foster child, adopted by Tanya Lyon, an unmarried nurse who works all-day shifts at a hospital in Marshall, Michigan, and typically stays overnight. Jace would frequently be left home alone and learned to fend for himself, MLive reported.
Hillsdale County Sheriff Tim Parker said in a public video following Jace’s disappearance that Jace could be described as “a very smart child, a very intelligent child, and very resourceful.”
The Hillsdale County Sheriff’s Office said Jace had run away numerous times before, but this was the longest he had been missing. Police said they received a call from Tanya Lyon at 9:04 p.m. on Jan. 18 saying she had just returned home from work and her son Jace Landon Lyon was missing from their residence at 1611 E. Moore Road, in Fayette Township.
Tanya Lyon told police she received a call from Jace around 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 18 to tell her he was home, and he was going to make himself some dinner. Parker said Tanya Lyon typically calls her son every 30 minutes to check in, but he didn’t answer the phone when she attempted to call back several times. Jace was already gone.
Attempts to reach Tanya Lyon have been unsuccessful.
Jace was indeed resourceful, and told Chuck Bianchi that shortly after calling his mother, he ran away from their house on Moore Road with just the clothes on his back and a small pack. The Bianchi’s home on N. Hillsdale Road was less than a mile away, just a short cut across an open field frequented by locals for deer and coyote hunting.
Once arriving at the Bianchi’s house, Chuck said that the 40-pound, 4-foot-tall child nestled into the corner of their largely empty garage, hiding behind an old, rusted wheelbarrow.
Early in the morning on Jan. 19, as the Bianchis were waking up and starting their day, Jace made his move from the garage to the side of the house — that’s when Chuck said he caught a glimpse of someone. But as Chuck walked towards the back window, Jace lodged himself between the air conditioner and the side of the house.
On Friday, Jan 20., as the Bianchis and Jace waited for the police to come to their house, Chuck cooked Jace five eggs and three slices of toast. Jace hadn’t eaten anything in more than 48 hours.
As Jace gobbled away the food, Chuck said he asked the 9-year old if he saw him early Thursday morning as he ran from the garage to the side of the house. Jace said he saw them.
The Bianchi’s went about their normal routine on Thursday, Jan. 19. Chuck and Michelle’s daughter Elizabeth went to school at Hillsdale Academy. Probate Judge Michelle Bianchi spent her day working through the docket at the county courthouse. Chuck retired from his job as an administrator for the Hillsdale hospital in 2007. Now at age 75 and retired, he spends most of his time with hobbies around the house.
Chuck said that sometime throughout the day on Jan. 19, Jace made his way from behind the air conditioner to the front door. Jace then snuck down into the Bianchi’s basement where he hid behind the door and under a tiny white desk.
While Jace kept out of sight in the Bianchi’s basement, news of his disappearance spread around town, and the Hillsdale County Sheriff’s office and Hillsdale College security were hard at work. The police had paused their initial search around 5 a.m. on Jan. 19 and resumed their search at noon. Director of Security William Whorley searched throughout Hayden Park and nearby facilities with his officers throughout Jan. 18 and 19.
At 9 a.m. on Jan. 20, nearly 200 volunteers, as well as 10 Hillsdale College students, gathered at Field of Dreams Park to search for Jace. But after nearly eight hours of searching, they still hadn’t located him.
Parker said he was inspired by the number of volunteers who came out to help.
“It just confirmed my knowledge of Hillsdale County and the residents, this is the outcome that can happen when the community comes together to aid one another,” Parker said a day after they found Jace. “Hillsdale College and the police put so much time into this search.”
Parker said a vast amount of public resources were dedicated to finding Jace. The Sheriff’s Office alone paid more than $2,500 in overtime salaries for the search.
“We tallied 75 hours of overtime for staff, those don’t even go into the other hours that the other sheriffs put in as well,” Parker said. “I had about 14 or 15 hours myself. You could easily stack another 12 – 15 hours with the other members that helped.”
While local and state law enforcement searched throughout Hillsdale, the Bianchis sat down for dinner and wondered if the person they saw running past their door earlier that morning may have been the missing boy they heard about throughout the day.
“My wife said ‘I wonder if what we had saw was the little boy,’ and I agreed with her,” Chuck said. “So we called the sheriff’s office. But by 10 p.m. that night no one showed up. And by the next morning no one came.”
As the Bianchis were lounging around their house on Thursday and Friday evening, they noticed a strange smell near the basement door.
“We usually throw random junk back there,” Chuck said. “My wife and daughter were blaming me for it. They thought it was a sandwich or old gym clothes. I even went back by the desk a couple of times. And I didn’t see anything.”
Chuck Bianchi said he stood right by the desk, less than a foot away from Jace at least two times before they discovered him.
By Friday afternoon, no police had shown up to the Bianchi’s house. Chuck said he called the Sheriff’s office and they told him they sent several officers to look around the property when he wasn’t there. Chuck said he was suspicious, but later saw a paw print left in the mud right by the garage and the front dog, most likely from a police canine.
The paw print was less than 5 feet away from a wall, where Jace was hiding on the other side. Chuck, who said he has personally bred and raised nearly a thousand hunting dogs in his life, was shocked they couldn’t smell out Jace.
“This experience taught me three things,” Chuck said. “That dog has a terrible nose, we should start locking our house, and most importantly, this is a kid who deserves a break.”
Around 4 p.m. on Friday, Jan 20, two FBI officers arrived at the Bianchis’ house. Chuck said he walked them around the property and showed them the short trail across the field connecting his house to the street Jace lives on. As Chuck walked the police around, he saw a sneaker print in the mud on his lawn.
“They agreed that it looked similar to Jace’s shoe,” Chuck said. “I marked it for them and they left soon after.”
Around 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 20, Chuck and Michelle Bianchi gathered at their table for dinner. Chuck said they talked about the community searches and the officers that stopped by their house. They said grace, and prayed that Jace be found safe.
Sheriff Parker said it was shortly after their dinner that they found Jace beneath the desk in the basement.
“Ironically enough, I was told that the people who found him prayed before supper that they would find him, and shortly after they did,” Parker said.
After dinner, Michelle Bianchi went back down to the basement to investigate the smell. There she found Jace, shaking and shivering under the white desk. The Bianchis calmed him down, sat him their couch, cooked for him, and put on a TV program for him.
“Who would expect that this kid would come to a house with an ex-hospital administrator and a county judge,” Chuck said. “He just came to the right place.”
While Michelle called the sheriff’s office to tell them they found Jace, Chuck sat with him on the couch. Chuck said Jace rested his head on his arm, and thanked him for the food. They started to talk, and Chuck asked him about his disappearance.
“I asked him ‘Why here? Why our house?’” Chuck said. “He just replied, ‘It was the first place I saw.’”
Once law enforcement officers pulled up to the Bianchi’s house, and red and blue lights filled their driveway, Chuck said Jace started to panic, thinking they were going to hurt him.
“One of the worst things that a parent can tell their child is that if they are disobedient law enforcement will come for them,” Parker said. “We’re their protectors. How tragic is that, we’re here to serve them and that we’re the bad guys.”
Chuck said he was nervous to let Jace go. When asked if Jace told him anything about his home life or why he ran away, Chuck was hesitant.
“I probably shouldn’t say that,” Chuck said. “He thought he was in trouble.”
There will be a bench trial for Jace starting in late February, and Chuck said he wants to be involved with this child in any way possible.
“I told him that ‘I’m not going to let anything happen to you,’” Chuck said. “And I meant it. I don’t get emotionally involved with kids, but I’d take this kid in a New York minute. He is smart, he is polite, he is one of the most amazing kids I’ve ever met. He just needs attention.”