The partially exposed remains of a child's body matching the description of Terry Dewayne Smith, a missing 11-year-old autistic boy, were found in a shallow grave near his family’s home in Menifee, authorities said.
A 16-year-old family member has been arrested on suspicion of murder, said Capt. John Hill of the Riverside County Sheriff's Department. Authorities refused to identify the suspect or the family relationship.
Terry had been missing since Saturday night or Sunday morning and hundreds of volunteers had been searching the area.
He was last seen by his older brother, who was watching him while his mother spent the night out.
Terry's older brother told authorities that between 7:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Saturday, he walked to a nearby market, Riverside County Sheriff’s Deputy Alberto Martinez said. During the walk, the brother said, he turned back and saw Terry following him and told him to go home.
That was the last time anyone saw the youth, Martinez said.
The body was found buried about 75 feet from the home in clothing that matched the description of what Terry was last seen wearing, sources said.
Menifee Mayor Scott Mann said the body was found about 12:55 a.m. on Wednesday.
The search area around the home had expanded to 55 square miles by Sunday afternoon, but became "rapidly smaller" as the days went by, Mann said.
Volunteers gathered in a prayer circle Wednesday as rumors spread that the hunt for Terry had taken a dramatic turn and that investigators were focusing on a search for remains.
“We will find a way to remember him in our hearts,” said Jenny Smith, who was one of his fourth-grade teachers.
Dallal Harb, the owner of the Menifee Market where the volunteer search has been coordinated, said she is close to the boy’s family and used to take him home from school.
“I just don’t want to believe it,” she said. “I see what’s going on. But I just don’t want to believe it.”
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