Crime & Courts

An outpouring of love decorates rural bridge where Lucas' body was found

Hundreds of items wedged along a rural bridge form a 40-foot-long memorial to 5-year-old Lucas Hernandez.
Hundreds of items wedged along a rural bridge form a 40-foot-long memorial to 5-year-old Lucas Hernandez. The Wichita Eagle

You would never know the bridge is there.

East of I-135, taking the 125th Street exit north of Park City, you head east and jog north to Southeast 96th, a sandy gravel road surrounded by rich wheat fields. You’re in southeast Harvey County. You drive east from Oliver toward Woodlawn, down a hill, toward a culvert bridge that blends into the roadbed.

On the south side of the bridge, you now can’t miss a 40-foot-long row of tightly wedged artificial flowers, balloons, children’s toys, stuffed animals and a cross with "Lucas" cut into the wood.

This is the place where strangers and relatives pay their respects to 5-year-old Lucas Hernandez. It’s not just a quiet roadside shrine.

It’s a visible outpouring of love, a way to tell Lucas: You are not alone anymore. These gifts are left to celebrate the memory of you.

One little sign says, “Lucas our sweet prince.” Another, “Lucas Allen, miss you always.”

This is the spot where, according to Wichita police, Lucas’ stepmother led a North Carolina private investigator to Lucas’ remains last Thursday. His body reportedly lay under the bridge. Lucas had been missing from his south Wichita home for more than three months, since his stepmother, Emily Glass, called 911 and said he had disappeared after she awoke from a nap.

Harvey County Sheriff describes the scene where the body of small child was found Thursday after. The body is believed to be that of Lucas Hernandez who has been missing since February.

Tuesday afternoon, storm clouds loomed over the bridge.

Except for the interruption of soft thunder, hidden birds kept up a chorus from the tree lines and pasture.

A burnt-orange butterfly floated with cottonwood seeds as thick as snow wafting across the bridge.

Back in Wichita, Glass, 27, remained in the Sedgwick County Jail on a $250,000 bond on Tuesday, after being arrested on suspicion of interference with a law enforcement officer and obstruction. Her arrest followed the discovery of Lucas' body. Police say their investigation continues. Prosecutors will be pondering evidence and deciding whether Glass will be charged with any crime involving Lucas.

At the bridge Tuesday afternoon, a car pulled up, and Sydney Mook, 20, of Newton got out. She carried a teddy bear and a pinwheel and positioned them in the row. A rubber band held a toy car against the bear’s arm.

As with many others in the Wichita area, Mook had been following Lucas’ disappearance on social media.

Days and weeks and months of searches, first by police, and then by volunteers, hadn’t yielded any trace of Lucas.

“I was pregnant when he (Lucas) went missing,” Mook said. “And if I wasn’t pregnant, I would have been out there looking for him.”

The bridge sits at the bottom of a draw, fed by a thread of a creek meandering from the south. It passes through a grove of cattails before it flows under the bridge. The water first rolls over a 3-foot retaining wall, then over a concrete floor under the bridge.

The most accessible path down from the bridge is now well-worn.

The path begins on the south side and quickly slopes down several feet past the fallen half of a willow tree. Someone has tossed three old tires over the side. They've become half buried in the mud, wrapped in dried grass.

There’s another access point from the north side, but it’s considerably steeper there, and a deep pool full of tadpoles has formed in the shade.

The culvert sits low enough that even with a house only two-tenths of a mile along the road to the west, a car could stop there and not be seen. Someone could get out and carry something under the bridge and not be detected even during the winter when the tree lines along the road aren’t full of leaves that provide cover.

Back up on the road, in the row of items placed there, you could overlook some smaller things.

Wedged in, there’s a little clear plastic bag carefully filled with suckers, candy kisses and rolls of powdered candy. A gift for a child.

People have lingered there at this new roadside stop. You can tell by all the cigarette butts pressed into the road pebbles.

It had been just a bridge, built for drainage, out of sight.

It’s not just a bridge anymore.

Mourners gathered in front of the home of Lucas Hernandez in Wichita late Thursday night. Police have found a body that is believed to be that of missing 5-year-old Wichita boy Lucas Hernandez in southeast Harvey County Thursday evening.