(MAYWOOD) Robert Larson had been on a mission to find the missing boy’s body.
Larson, who trains rescue and cadaver dogs, had been walking the banks of the Des Plaines River for about 10 hours a day since April 17 — a day after Bryeon Hunter was reported missing in Maywood — looking for the toddler. Sometimes he searched with other volunteers, but mostly he was alone.
Larson took only two days off to rest his dogs — a yellow lab named Captain Dexter and a German Shepherd named Sergeant Duke.
Larson, 47, of Westchester, knew he would make more progress if he could travel the river in a small boat, but he couldn’t afford one. That changed when Larson received a donated canoe two weeks ago, but it capsized within minutes in the river’s fast-moving water. He sold the canoe for $500 and bought a better-suited vessel — a kayak.
On Tuesday he shoved the kayak in the water, and a short time later, he found the toddler’s body in a pile of driftwood a few feet from the banks of the river near 1st Avenue close to the Brookfield Zoo in the McCormick Woods Forest Preserve, The Chicago Sun-Times reports
“I couldn’t stop myself from saying, ‘I found him,’ ” said Larson, who immediately called authorities. “I think about Bryeon Hunter, and I think about my son, I have a 7-year-old, and it’s just not right. No boy should have been treated like that. I don’t care what he did,” Larson said.
The body of a “young male” child was pulled from the Des Plaines River on Tuesday near 31st Street and First Avenue in the western suburb, according to a statement from the Cook County Sheriff’s office. The body, which was partially decomposed, “bears strong similarities” to Bryeon, the toddler who went missing in April after he was allegedly beaten to death by his mother and her boyfriend, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said.
At the scene Tuesday evening, Dart said, “Most indications are that this is going to be the little boy from Maywood.”
The body was found about three and a half miles south of where Bryeon’s mother and her boyfriend possibly dumped the body, Maywood Police Chief Tim Curry said.
Bryeon’s mother, Lakesha Baker, 21, initially told police her child had been kidnapped — prompting State Police to issue an Amber alert, authorities said. She later admitted to police that on April 15, her boyfriend, Michael Scott, 21, covered the child’s mouth with his hand and held him down while she beat him with a belt, according to Cook County prosecutors.
The child ended up on the bathroom floor “moaning and having difficulty breathing,” prosecutors said. Bryeon’s torso was purple and bruised.
The mother and boyfriend blamed each other for disposing of the child in the river. Baker and Scott were each charged with murder. Baker is being held without bond, and Scott was ordered held on $750,000 bond.
Curry said the body was en route to the Cook County medical examiner’s office for an autopsy.
While it’s not certain yet that the body is of Bryeon, Curry said if they did indeed find the little boy’s remains, then he’ll feel a sense of closure.
“While we seek justice he can be at rest,” Curry said.
He pointed to the persistent searchers who tirelessly looked for the boy.
Larson, who thinks of his own 7-year-old son when he thinks of Bryeon, said searching for the toddler took over his life.
“I thought ‘This river can’t possibly be the final resting place for this boy,’ ” Larson said, speaking from the river’s edge. “I was willing to continue the search all the way down to the Mississippi River. I didn’t care what took I was gonna find this boy.”
“I probably won’t sleep a wink tonight. I’ll never be able to get that image out of my head — like a tattoo,” he said.
And Curry said he’s truly grateful to Larson.
“He never gave up,” Curry said. “He is the reason we can begin to put closure to this.”
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