The search for a missing toddler is over in western Wisconsin after an officer discovered the body of 2-year-old Isaiah Theis in the trunk of a car near the toddler's home in Centuria, Wis.
Sheriff Peter Johnson announced Thursday morning that the investigation is ongoing, and the cause and manner of the boy's death are unknown at this time. An autopsy has been requested.
The initial investigation indicates the Chevy Impala, which was being repaired by the boy's father, had been looked into, and the area around the vehicle had been searched several times; however, searchers were told the vehicle had been locked before the toddler went missing and that it was highly unlikely that he was inside.
At about 10 p.m., the car's owner arrived to remove it, but before the owner left with the car, an officer opened the trunk and located the toddler's body.
The discovery minutes after the volunteer search ended and over 26 hours after he was reported missing. The identity of the car's owner has not been released.
At an afternoon press conference, Chief Deputy Steve Moe said deputies did not have access to the keys during the search and were operating on the assumption that the boy had wandered away, which he was known to do.
According to his mother, Isaiah was playing inside the family's home on the 1500 block of 180th Street with his 7-year-old brother when he went missing around 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday. Isaiah was known to walk outside occasionally, but hadn't wandered far in the past.
On Thursday, both of the boy's parents partook in a polygraph test with investigators.
Johnson described Isaiah as a "precocious" boy who likes to strike out on his own. Isaiah "was known to get on the road and go," Johnson said.
Moe declined to speculate on how Isaiah got into the trunk, and declined questions about whether investigators considered the death an accident or suspected foul play.
"I know that there's strong interest in what caused it and what things led to the boy getting in that car," Moe acknowledged. "It's just too early."
In a statement, Johnson said "it would be inappropriate for anyone to speculate as the cause and nature of death" until the autopsy is complete. Results are expected from the Anoka County coroner on Thursday.
A candlelight vigil for Isaiah will be held at Centuria City Park behind Al's Dinder between 8 and 10 p.m.
HUNDREDS OF VOLUNTEERS JOINED SEARCH
The sheriff's office organized an estimated 2,450 civilian volunteers for the search, which began at about 6 a.m. on Wednesday and covered a 2-mile radius in dense, wooded areas.
"Without the assistance of those volunteers, we would not have been able to adequately search the areas that needed to be searched," Johnson said. "I couldn't be more impressed by the compassion of the people living in this area."
Johnson said four of the volunteers got lost in the area themselves and also had to be located by rescue teams.
Divers were also called to search a nearby pond on Wednesday.
Dog teams were also brought in to help with the search, but due to the heat, they were only able to stay out for about 30 minutes at a time.
By Wednesday afternoon, searchers regrouped for a shoulder-to-shoulder search of the same immediate area surrounding the boy's home. Crews searched until they could no longer see on Wednesday night and had planned to resume on Thursday morning.
Many volunteers learned of the missing toddler from Facebook and Twitter posts Tuesday night, helping search until 1:30 a.m., which is when it became too dangerous to continue in the dark.