Desperate search ends tragically as 5-year-old found dead in Mo. pond

07/09/2014 8:24 AM

07/09/2014 8:24 AM

All the yelling in the world wasn’t going to bring “Gene” Cory-Ferguson home safe.

On Tuesday, as more than a hundred searchers traipsed through corn fields and over creeks and pasture for more than six hours in rural Cass County, the little boy, 5, lay dead at the bottom of an algae-covered pond no more than a hundred feet from his house. Many called out to the child, to no avail.

His full name: Tony Eugene Cory-Ferguson. He had autism, had wandered off before and was last seen Tuesday in a white T-shirt and white underwear.

During the search of an agriculture research area known as The Farm southeast of Harrisonville, a plane and helicopter flew overhead and divers probed the bottoms of other ponds. But authorities think the boy probably drowned before they even got the call shortly before noon.

He lived nearby with his grandparents, who had adopted him.

Shortly after Gene’s body was found about 6:30 p.m., his distraught grandmother walked to the pond bank and said loudly, “My baby’s dead.”

Lt. Kevin Tieman of the Cass County Sheriff’s Office said divers found the body in water about 5 feet deep.

“There is no sign of foul play,” Tieman said.

The body would be turned over to the Jackson County medical examiner, he added.

Gene disappeared about 11:45 a.m. from the home, where a repairman had been working that morning, authorities said. The grandparents were also home. Authorities said they talked to the repairman to help establish a chronology.

The boy had gone off before, they said, but had always been found quickly.

Over the ensuing hours, divers checked ponds, and planes and helicopters flew overhead. People on foot, and some riding tractors and four-wheelers, searched fields of corn that stood 8 feet tall. They lined up, maybe 20 at a time, and swept down the rows.

At least two dozen emergency vehicles were on the scene.

Volunteers joined more than 100 emergency workers in the search, which covered more than a square mile.

The pond in which the body was found was not part of the research facility. Tieman said it had a barbed-wire fence around it.

Laura Dunn and daughter Shawnda Howell, of Clinton, Mo., were on their way to Lee’s Summit to shop when they heard about the missing boy. They stopped and joined the search for six hours, through cornfields, creeks and mud.

At one point they talked to Gene’s grandfather.

“I told him we were not going to leave until we found him,” Howell said.

But dogs never picked up a trail in the corn fields, pastures or grasslands on the property of the research center, which has multiple buildings, test fields and ponds.

Tieman said the search, which involved officers from multiple departments, is what they train to do.

“Our hope is that we get a good result,” he said. “But that’s not what happened here today.”

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