Body of missing autistic boy, 5, found in Pennsylvania canal

Jayliel Vega Batista had left a New Years Eve party without shoes or a coatand death is being considered a tragic accident, police say

The body of a five-year-old Pennsylvania boy with autism was found in a canal about a quarter mile from a relatives home where the boy wandered away, barefoot and without a coat, during a New Years Eve party, authorities announced Saturday.

Lehigh County Coroner Scott Grim said an autopsy Monday will help determine when Jayliel Vega Batista entered the water at Canal Park in Allentown.

Preliminarily, this is being considered a tragic accident, Allentown police Chief Keith Morris said at the same Saturday evening news conference.

The boy went missing about 10.30pm Thursday, after family members told police he was playing with a tablet computer with other children before he simply wandered away without being immediately noticed. Temperatures were near freezing Friday night into Saturday, and rose to only the high 30s.

Search dogs tracked the boys scent to the canal, where a searcher found the tablet early Saturday afternoon. That prompted police to call in fire department divers, who found the boys body about 8ft from shore, in 6ft of water, authorities said.

At this point, we dont believe there was any foul play involved, Morris said. But police were continuing their investigation in hopes of pinpointing where, how and why the boy may have entered the water.

The chief couldnt immediately say whether anyone might face charges because the boy wandered away, though authorities took care to note they were attempting to assist the boys grieving family. They asked reporters and the public to respect the familys privacy, and said a local funeral director has offered to pay for the boys burial.

I loved my son, the boys father, Gilberto Vega, said shortly after being told of his sons death, the Allentown Morning Call reported. He had no fear. He didnt understand the dangers.

The tablet was found about 30 yards away from where the dogs traced the boys scent. Its possible the boy entered the water at that location, then drifted to the spot where he was found Saturday, authorities said.

Grim couldnt say how the boy died, or whether he was likely still alive when he entered the water.

Well determine that Monday at the autopsy, Grim said, adding that calculations involving the water temperature and the body temperature of the boy will help determine how long he had been in the water and how he died.

Thurman Clark, 25, told the newspaper that he found the tablet computer shortly after joining other searchers at the canal about 1pm Saturday.

I really hope its not his, Clark said.

Earlier in the day, police captain Glen Dorney said 20 search-and-rescue dog teams were looking for Jayliel and crews were recanvassing his neighborhood because a search of nearby woods and other possible locations showed no signs of the boy.

The boy was visiting his great-aunts home for the holiday, and left barefoot and without any kind of outerwear, police said.

The residents of Allentown, about 50 miles north-west of Philadelphia, joined the search for the boy without being asked. Police had to ask some volunteers to stop because there were so many, instead urging residents to search their properties, including parked cars and any places the boy might be hiding or seeking refuge from the cold.

Mayor Ed Pawlowski commended the volunteers and others who tried in vain to find the boy.

This is a sad day in the conclusion of our search, the mayor said. This is a sad day in our city.

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