.LAURINBURG – Investigators believe they have located the body of 4-year-old Raul Gonzales Johnson, according to Scotland County Sheriff Ralph Kersey
“It is with great sadness that we announce that we believe we have found the body of Raul Gonzalez Johnson in a pond off of Pea Bridge Road,” an emotional Kersey told members of the press late Saturday afternoon. “For days you have seen an enormous amount of work going into this search for little Raul. We have prayed, but this is the outcome everyone feared.”
The Scotland County Medical Examiner’s Office will confirm the child’s identity and cause of death.
The manner of death appears to be accidental at this time.
“We will continue the investigation until we have answers to what happened to this little boy,” he said.
At 10:30 a.m. Saturay, crews began the work of draining the pond — pumping 8,000 gallons of water per minute into a nearby pasture in an attempt to find the child. The man-made pond used for recreation is five feet deep at the edge and up to eight feet in the center.
“At approximately 1:45 p.m., they turned the pumps off seeing something in the water,” Kersey said.
Officials have been looking for the child since shortly after noon on Wednesday when he went missing from his on Village Drive.
The last person to see Raul was an elderly neighbor he sometimes visited for cookies. The woman sent the home child home at 10:30 a.m. and said she last saw him headed toward his house.
Raul and his six-year-old sister were being taken care of by the children’s grandfather while their mother, Annie Johnson was at work. The grandfather was fixing lunch when noticed the child was missing. He looked for Raul on the property for an hour before calling 911.
The boy had also gone missing for 30 minutes on Tuesday.
Evidence found around the pond caused searchers focus their efforts there. Several sets of small footprints were found in the mud around the pond, Kersey said on Thursday. Detectives believed the prints were fresh because rain on Monday night would have washed away older prints. Five different search dogs led rescuers to the pond again and again.
Dive teams from Marlboro and Cumberland counties searched the pond and used sonar equipment for two days last week in an attempt to locate Raul.
Officials decided to drain the pond because they believed it was possible that boy’s size could make it easy to miss a body in the deep, murky water.
“It was determined that in order for us to determine the next course of action, we really needed to eliminate that body of water. And draining a body of water such as that, that really is the best way to determine if Raul’s body is in there,” said FBI Supervisory Special Agent, Jason Kaplan.
The agent said for a dive team to be able to clear an area they have to be able to do a particular grid search.
”As part of that process, we determined the locations that had to be cleared, and that body of water hadn’t been cleared yet,” Kaplan said.
Kersey told reporters that he felt close to the child because he had met the little boy and held him during the course of an investigation last fall. He described Raul as a “timid, sweet child” with a love of life who considered his neighbors as family.
“ I’ve had children that were age at some point … they’re grown now. I just don’t what to feel,” Kersey said. “We were hoping for the best, and that is not what happened today. It’s just a sad day.”
Kersey called it a blessing to have met the child.
“I know that I gave my best. It put a passion in me to do all that I could to bring him home safe,” Kersey choked out through tears.
Detective Sgt. Jessica Sadovnikov, lead detective on the case, was charged with notifying the family that the child had been found. Sadavnikov urged the public to respect the family’s space.
“The family is holding up as best as they can. Naturally, this is a very difficult time for them. I don’t know if you can imagine the loss of a child,” she said. “We just ask that all citizens and news sources respect as best you can the privacy of the family; allow them this time to grieve accordingly.”
Kersey encouraged residents to support the family during the grieving process.
“I ask all citizens of Scotland County to do what we do best in certain times like this and that is to come together. The family of Raul needs our prayer and support,” he said.
Reach Beth Lawrence 910-506-3169