published Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

Chief: Family member arrested in autistic boy case

MENIFEE, Calif. — Police say a 16-year-old family member has been arrested on suspicion of murder in the case of a missing 11-year-old autistic boy in Southern California.

Menifee police Chief John Hill said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon that a human body that matched the description of Terry Dewayne Smith Jr. was found partially exposed in a shallow grave on the family property.

Hill says the death was the result of a domestic issue at the house.

The body has not yet been positively identified.

Terry has been missing from his Menifee, Calif., home since Saturday, and hundreds of volunteers have helped search for him.

Volunteers lingered Wednesday after the search was called off for an 11-year-old autistic boy who vanished over the weekend, awaiting word as authorities investigated possible human remains found at the boy’s rural Southern California home.

Investigators served a search warrant before dawn at the Menifee home of Terry Dewayne Smith Jr., Riverside County sheriff’s Deputy Albert Martinez said, hours after they had told volunteers to stop searching the desert and brushlands of Menifee.

Volunteer Gloria Castillo said she’s searched every night since Sunday, leaving the area only to work and feed her family dinner before returning, sometimes walking in the open areas until 2 a.m.

“He can’t speak for himself anymore. Menifee needs peace of mind now, tell us the truth,” Castillo said, while standing outside the Menifee Market where volunteers gathered to snack on donated food and await word of Terry’s fate.

Volunteers were told to stop searching Tuesday night, because searchers were getting stranded in the desert and causing problems, hours after local officials pledged to continue searching for the boy.

Authorities said Wednesday that they dug up “possible human remains” but have not confirmed whether they were human. There were 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 on 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.

His family 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.

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.

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