Out here, the houses sit a quarter- to a half-mile apart, separated by corn, milo and pastures. Out here, a mile southwest of Colwich, in western Sedgwick County, sounds travel far. In the past, when a 5-year-old autistic boy and other children played outside a home a half-mile away, neighbor Suzie Strunk could hear them. The good sounds came to her from across a pea-gravel road, past a neighbor’s recreational pond and over a cow pasture.
But in the steady hot breeze Tuesday morning, Strunk heard a different sound echoing over the fields — screaming from the boy’s mother. Her son had just been found submerged in the pond, and emergency crews were trying to revive him.
The boy had wandered away from his home several times before, authorities said. Strunk doesn’t know the boy and his family. They had been living there about two years. They always waved back. When she drove past the pond to the boy’s house Tuesday morning to see if she could help, she saw emergency workers giving the child CPR. A local priest arrived at the same time she did. Strunk, a 46-year-old nursing student and mother of five, wanted to help the boy’s mother, who had become hysterical. The boy’s father looked distraught.
“I tried to ask her if there was anything we could do,” she recalled.
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Strunk felt useless.
Later Tuesday morning, Sedgwick County sheriff’s Capt. George Mason told reporters gathered at the scene that the boy had been found in the pond, about a quarter-mile from his home on another resident’s property. Family members and Colwich police officers found the boy, said sheriff’s Sgt. Darren Grote.
Crews rushed the boy to Via Christi Hospital on St. Francis with serious injuries, Mason said. Emergency dispatchers initially reported that he was “code blue” — not breathing.
Tuesday evening, the boy was listed in critical condition.
It was the fourth near-drowning or drowning of a child under the age of 6 in Sedgwick County since June.
Authorities gave this account: On Tuesday morning, the boy was being cared for by family members at his home in the 4200 block of 183rd Street West. His mother was in Wichita. The boy’s older sister, in her 20s, called her mother to say he was missing. At 10:47 a.m., the mother called a 911 operator to report him missing.
At least 30 minutes passed between the time the boy was missing and when he was found, Mason said.
The pond is fairly shallow, 20 to 25 feet wide and 40 feet long, he said. A neighbor said the pond had been dug several years ago. Strunk said her neighbor fishes in the pond and has barbecues there.