BEMIDJI - Isaiah Risland's recovery from hypothermia injuries suffered in a sailboat accident continue to encourage family members.
The 8-year-old Leonard boy called his grandparents, Lyle and Ayleen Wallin of Blackduck, on Wednesday, and began to answer questions verbally.
"Isaiah was having a hard time talking, but grandpa told him he loved him," Isaiah's aunt, Sara Staley, told the Pioneer Thursday. The boy then called his grandmother on her cell phone.
"She did most of the talking, but he answered questions and ended the call with, 'I love you even more,'" Staley said.
Staley has frequently updated Isaiah's journal on the CaringBridge website. as he recovers from the April 6 accident that killed his two younger brothers and left him hospitalized in Minneapolis.
The boys were sailing with their father, Dan Risland, when the boat sunk in Clearwater Lake, about 30 miles northwest of Bemidji. The brothers spent about an hour in 40-degree weather before first responders could get them out of the water.
Isaiah's voice is "a little raspy and squeaky" from tubes removed during his hospital stay, Staley said in response to questions from the Pioneer via email.
In a journal entry Wednesday night, Staley provided more encouraging signs in Isaiah's recovery.
"When the nurse asked him, 'Who's that over there?' He said, 'Daddy.'"
The nurse also asked Isaiah if he needed anything. He responded by telling her he'd like water and that he was hungry, Staley wrote.
"He also answered his birth month. He also has told his mommy, 'I love you,'" she wrote.
His mother, Ruth Risland, lives in Bemidji.
"Danny and Ruth are very encouraged by his progress," Staley told the Pioneer.
Isaiah, who is being treated for hypothermia-related injuries at Children's Hospital in Minneapolis, was taken off the ventilator used to help his breathing on Wednesday morning.
On Thursday, Staley reported Isaiah's oxygen levels were "a little low," prompting hospital staff to aide his breathing with an oxygen tube.
Late last week, Isaiah began responding to voice by moving his limbs, and a magnetic resonance imaging test, or MRI, was "normal," Staley wrote
Isaiah's brothers, 6-year-old Zechariah and 2-year-old Jacob, died in the accident. Their funeral was Tuesday in Clearbrook.
Previously, Clearwater County Sheriff Mike Erickson ruled out criminal charges.
Dan Risland and his three boys were in a 10-foot fiberglass sailboat on Clearwater Lake when it sank. The father swam to shore to summon help after being unable to get the boys to land.
The boys were wearing life jackets, but spent about an hour in 40-degree water until first responders could reach them. Zechariah and Jacob died, apparently from hypothermia, while emergency crews revived Isaiah, who was airlifted to Minneapolis.
Chief Deputy Todd Spray said the Clearwater County Sheriff's Office didn't have official updates on Isaiah, but they've been following his progress.
So far, civil aviators have been unable to spot the sunken boat in the lake, leading sheriff's officials to believe it is in deep water.
"I think we're going to make a real good effort next week to locate the boat" using sonar equipment, Spray said Thursday, adding attempts to remove it from may be put on hold until the water warms.
"It probably is going to require divers," Spray said. "The water is still pretty cold yet."
The chief deputy said retrieving the boat may bring some closure.
"It was tragic for the family," Spray said. "We're trying to be mindful of this and do it (recovering the boat) quickly."
A benefit to help defray the family's costs is planned from 1-5 p.m. Saturday at Evangelical Church, 5405 Hart Lane NW, Bemidji.
On Thursday, the CaringBridge site for Isaiah, which has generated more than 700 guestbook comments, surpassed 41,000 page views.
Considering the tragedy, Staley said the family is doing well.
"We have times of sadness, but we also have such wonderful memories to hold onto," Staley said. "Nearly everyone in our family (both Ruth and Dan's sides) have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
"This is different than being a part of a church or believing in God (although that's part of it)... Life has many difficulties, but knowing God will use all those difficulties for something better than we can imagine is a comfort."