CASS COUNTY, MO (KCTV) - Heartbreaking news on Tuesday night as authorities searching for a missing 5-year-old boy say he has been found dead in a pond near his home.
Tony Eugene "Gene" Cory Ferguson's body was found about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday and the announcement came just before 7 p.m.
"Every agency out here worked as hard as they could and as diligently as they could to try to locate this boy and unfortunately it did not come to a happy result today," Lt. Kevin Tieman of the Cass County Sheriff's Office said Tuesday night. "The loss of a child is not easy for anybody and so at this point we just want to make sure that we do everything for the family that we can."
The boy with autism and medical issues had wandered away from his home late Tuesday morning after a repair crew left a door open.
Parents of children with autism had posted on KCTV5's Facebook page that they feared the boy would be drawn to water. KCTV5 recently aired a special report about some children with autism and their fatal attraction to water, and swimming lessons for children with autism.
Authorities were concerned for Gene's safety in part because of his medical issues and Tuesday's heat and humidity.
"I'm real concerned about him. He's just 5 years old," family friend Bonnie Miller said before the tragic announcement was made. "I've known him since he was 6 months old. It's a very good family. And I worry about the heat out here. He wouldn't know how to get a drink."
Gene walked away from his home about 11:45 a.m. He left from the area of Highway 7, just north of East Elm Street, east of Harrisonville.
He lived near extensive farm fields so officers and dogs searched corn fields in which the corn is twice as tall as the boy.
He was last seen wearing a white T-shirt and white underwear. He has a medicine patch on his back.
The Cass County Sheriff's Office, along with the Missouri Highway Patrol, Kansas City police helicopters and members of the Garden City Fire Department, searched the area to find him. The Lee's Summit Underwater Rescue Team and the Missouri Search and Rescue Team also helped in the hunt for Gene, including checking nearby ponds.
A state water patrol found his body in a pond about 100 feet from his house. His body was located with sonar. The pond is owned by a neighbor.
Authorities believe the boy drowned shortly after he went missing.
"We don't know exactly how long he's been there, but our search efforts started around noon shortly after we received a call," Tieman said. "We've been out here for about seven hours with no sighting of him, no indication of where he might have been so it's our assumption at this point that he's been there since shortly before we arrived at the scene."
Capt. Mitch Phillips of the Cass County Sheriff's Office said they searched hundreds of acres of crops.
When Gene ran off one time before, he ran toward the fields and not the highway. He was found within 30 minutes.
Many like Miller prayed for Gene's safe return.
Neighbors were quite concerned and offered to assist in the search including making available all-terrain vehicles.
Gene's grandparents adopted him. They usually keep the doors secure but an air-conditioning repair crew had been at the house on Tuesday morning. Authorities believe a worker left a door open while bringing items in and out, which allowed Gene to sneak away.