MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The 2-year-old boy who went missing in western Wisconsin for more than 24 hours was found inside the trunk of a car Wednesday much to the disappointment of volunteer searchers who say police told them the cars in the area were cleared.
Polk County Sheriff Peter Johnson said that a law enforcement officer found Isaiah Theis deceased just after 10 p.m. The boy was found inside a Chevrolet Impala near his home in Centuria.
The sheriff’s office said Thursday that the Impala had been looked into several times, and searchers were told that the car was locked prior to the boy being reported missing.
“I was quite surprised,” said Polk County Chief Deputy Steve Moe.
Authorities were working under the belief, he said, that there was no access to the car.
“Obliviously, there was,” Moe said.
The Impala belonged to someone who had dropped it off at a repair shop near the property. It was when the Impala’s owner went to move it Wednesday that an officer checked and found Isaiah’s body inside.
“Why didn’t they look?” said one volunteer Thursday who had searched for Isaiah. “That’s all I can say. Why didn’t they open that trunk up and look.”
Rusty Olson, another volunteer who participated in the search, said he asked authorities to search the cars and trucks near Isaiah’s home.
“Before we left, I asked [an officer if] all the vehicles been checked, and he said, ‘Yes, all vehicles cleared,’” Olson said.
“I’m very upset with how it turned out,” he added.
The news of the boy’s death came at the end of a day when an estimated 2,450 volunteers searched for him in 90-plus degree heat, walking shoulder-to-shoulder throughout a two-square-mile area.
Isaiah went missing at about 7:30 p.m. Tuesday from the 1500 block of 180th Street after playing with his older brother, according to his father, Justin Theis.
Outside the family’s home Thursday morning, two young girls brought their own stuffed animals by to remember Isaiah as they also have a 2-year-old brother. Their mother, who was involved in the search, described how she felt as a parent hearing the news.
“I cried instantly,” said Kandy Nelson, of Stillwater. “I mean I look at my baby, he’s the same exact age. I told my friend I wouldn’t even be able to talk to the media because I would’ve just been running and screaming his name. The only thing that would’ve stopped me was the hospital bed, having exhaustion from running and screaming. There’s not a moment where I would’ve sat down.”
A full autopsy has been requested, the sheriff’s office said, adding that “it would be inappropriate for anyone to speculate as to the cause and nature of death until that examination has been done.” His cause of death has not been determined accidental or criminal, and authorities say his family is cooperating with the investigation.
A candlelight vigil was held for Isaiah Thursday night in Centuria City Park behind Al’s Diner. Dozens showed up, many of which had helped in the search for Isaiah. There was a mix of emotions — both heartbreak and frustration. The big question in the small town that night was: Why wasn’t the car searched earlier?
“He was right there,” one woman at the vigil said. “That hurts me, because it takes 3 seconds to pop a trunk, and I don’t understand why that wasn’t one of the first places that was checked…it’s frustrating beyond belief to think about that.”