By DON O'BRIEN and EDWARD HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writers
BARRY, Ill. -- The body of a Palmyra, Mo., man missing for nearly a week was found Friday morning near Barry.
Pike County Sheriff Paul Petty said the body of Christopher B. Witt, 21, was found at 8:50 a.m. at the base of a water tower in an industrial park near the Interstate 72 interchange. Petty said Witt did not jump from the water tower.
"Preliminary indications are that he died from the elements," Petty said. "At this point, we don't believe there was any foul play. We are working with the Marion County Sheriff's Department to gather all the facts in the case."
The Marion County Sheriff's Department initiated a search for Witt on Monday. Police said the last contact Witt had with anyone was via text message Jan. 12. Deputies went to Witt's residence on County Road 327 in Palmyra, but he was not home. Marion County sheriff's investigators indicated that Witt was not a danger to the community, but that he was in need of medical attention and was a danger to himself.
Police said at the time that Witt was believed to be traveling in a red 2006 Ford Fusion with a temporary spare tire on the front passenger side.
Petty said his department responded to a call early Friday of a vehicle matching the description of the one Witt was thought to be driving.
"A little more than an hour after we arrived, we discovered a white male who was dead at the scene," Petty said.
Witt was found about 140 feet from his car, Petty said.
The Illinois State Police assisted at the scene.
Witt's mother, Marla Sparks of Palmyra, said her son had a history of mental illness.
"He struggled with it for years, mostly depression," Sparks told The Herald-Whig in an interview Friday. "He was struggling with the adult role of life."
Sparks said her son was not taking his medication when he disappeared and family members were concerned he might harm himself. She said her son was not employed or married, but he was an affectionate young man and a talented artist.
"He was extremely creative," she said. "From the time he was old enough to hold on to a crayon, he was an artist. At one point he drew so much that he actually had pencil smudges almost tattooed into his skin. You really could not clean it with a brush."
Even at age 21, Witt continued his passion for art, and many people "thought he was amazing," Sparks said.
"I have a cousin who is a retired college art professor, and she said she wished for students who could do art like him," she said. "Had he chosen to do that, he could have made a living off of his artwork."
Witt also wrote poetry and won several awards for his work, Sparks said.
"He also loved music," she said. "He had a CD collection that musicians would cry for."
Sparks said her son grew up in the Blue Springs/Lee's Summit area of western Missouri. He stayed in that part of the state after she remarried and moved to the Palmyra area about five or six years ago.
"He was just starting high school, and he chose to stay in that area with his father," she said.
Witt moved to the Palmyra area in May and lived in an apartment on one of two farms owned by Sparks' family. She lives on the other farm.
"That was something else he dearly loved -- being out on the farm," she said. "He would walk and just experience being outside. He'd walk for hours, sometimes truly for hours."
Another thing that distinguished Witt was his affection for his family.
"He was very loving to his family," Sparks said. "Truly, I'm not sure there was ever a single time he did not give me a hug or a kiss or an ‘I love you' -- or all three."
She said Witt had "a yours, mine and ours kind of family" that featured an older natural brother, a 9-year-old half brother and several stepbrothers and a stepsister.
"He was firmly attached to his little brother and played with him endlessly," Sparks said.
"He was a good, good boy," she added tearfully. "If Christopher has a legacy, it's to urge parents to not ignore or delay helping their children."