MENIFEE, Calif. (AP) — Authorities say they’ve found possible human remains Wednesday at the Southern California desert home of an 11-year-old autistic boy who vanished over the weekend.
Investigators served a search warrant before dawn at the home of Terry Dewayne Smith Jr., Riverside County sheriff’s Deputy Albert Martinez said.
They dug up “possible human remains” but had not confirmed whether they were human. He had no details on the condition of the remains.
Other details were not immediately released but authorities expected to hold a news conference later in the day.
Televised news reports showed sheriff’s investigators concentrating what appeared to be a small hole by a tree and about 75 feet from the house, which sits in a rambling, weedy lot off a remote road.
The boy was reported missing on Sunday morning in the Riverside County community about 70 miles southeast of Los Angeles.
Volunteers scoured the desert and brushlands, worried that he may have wandered off without food, water or special medication.
However, “foul play has never been ruled out” by investigators, Martinez said.
Terry was last seen Saturday night, reportedly following his 16-year-old half-brother, who told the boy to go home, the Desert Sun said. The boy’s mother, Shawna Smith, said she didn’t realize he was missing until the next day
Searches of the area with a bloodhound, horses and a helicopter were unsuccessful. Hundreds of volunteers also joined the effort but days of covering miles of desert in 100-degree temperatures turned up nothing.
Martinez said the official search was suspended until investigators can determine what they found at the home.
However, volunteers continued to hope for the boy’s safety on Wednesday and some said they planned to continue the hunt.
“Until we have absolute confirmation from the sheriff directly, we will continue to do our job, which is to search,” said a posting on a Facebook page where the volunteer search was organized.
At midmorning, some volunteers held a prayer circle as word spread that investigators were at the boy’s home looking for possible human remains.
“We will find a way to remember him in our hearts,” said Jenny Smith, who was one of his fourth-grade teachers.
“I just don’t want to believe it,” Dallal Harb, who owns a nearby market and used to take the boy home from school, told the Los Angeles Times.
“I see what’s going on,” she said. “But I just don’t want to believe it.”