By RODNEY HART
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
COLONY, Mo. — A 6-year-old boy with autism was found dead in a pond Wednesday, 24 hours after he was reported missing and seven months after his twin brother also drowned.
Christian Riley Baucom, 6, was reported missing about 12:50 p.m. Tuesday from a residence in the small Knox County town on Route K. His body was found by Missouri State Highway Patrol Water Patrol divers in a pond after it was drained and lowered several feet, about 250 yards from where he was last seen. Divers, walking arm in arm in mucky water up to their waists, found the child's body just before 12:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Investigators said they will continue to try to find out how the boy ended up in the pond, but, for now, it's assumed he drowned accidentally.
Family members declined to comment before and after the boy was found. His twin brother drowned in a different pond in August. The two boys were living with a Mennonite family because their mother is in the Missouri Department of Corrections, family members said. The family had custody of the boys through a Department of Corrections program.
The boy did not live at the house by the pond where he was found, they said, but was cared for by several different sisters of a Mennonite family who live in the area.
He was last seen playing by the house. Missouri State Highway Patrol Lt. Nelson Elfrink said family members told investigators the boy had a "fascination with the hogs," and a hog pen is about 30 yards from the pond where he was found.
The pond was searched by volunteers Tuesday night. Elfrink said he walked around the pond Tuesday looking for footprints, but didn't see any. The area is churned up and muddy from the hogs.
"There were people wading in there last night, but it was deeper than we thought," Elfrink said.
Several ponds around the farm were drained and thoroughly searched, Elfrink said.
Children with autism often have fascination with water, experts say. Though many cannot talk or communicate, they are extremely intelligent and curious. One of the Mennonite women who helped care for the boy said he loved the outdoors but "wouldn't miss dinner."
Before the little boy was found, hundreds of people were searching for several miles around Colony, a patrol helicopter and airplane droned overhead, and searchers used horses and teams of volunteers to comb the area woods and rugged terrain.
"We do appreciate all the volunteers who came out and helped," Elfrink said. "In speaking for the family, I'm sure that they feel the same way."
The search was headquartered at the Colony Baptist Church, just south of the house from where the boy disappeared. Hundreds of volunteers and numerous agencies gathered and focused search efforts from the building.
"It's not the result we wanted, but it was expected by many," said church Pastor Rex Link. "It's a very tragic thing."
At about 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, patrol investigators walked toward the pond, and soon a large backhoe arrived and began digging up a levee to drain the pond. Media were asked to move away from the area, and later family members and other onlookers also were asked to move away. When more law enforcement officers and a Knox County ambulance showed up, the worst was feared, and investigators made it official a short time later.
In the hours leading up to the boy being found, hundreds of people gathered at the church and were briefed before heading out to look for the missing boy. Knox County Chief Deputy Ryan Bishop said "no stone was being left unturned" in the search.
"We appreciate all the help and the outpouring of support," Bishop said. "It's wonderful to see the community pull together like this, and we live in a good community."
Link said he saw license plates from Illinois and Iowa and knew of people from miles around who joined in the search.
"Many were Mennonites and just as many weren't, and it didn't make any difference," Link said.
Travis Hamlin of Edina came over with a brown quarter horse to help in the Wednesday morning search.
"I was going through the draws and the creeks, places where people can't get through," Hamlin said. "We just try to do what we can do. Someone needs to help."