Posted at: 07/19/2013 6:53 AM
Updated at: 07/21/2013 6:08 PM
By: Michelle Knoll
Pastor: Wis. Toddler Found Dead in Trunk with Keys
A Wisconsin toddler found dead in the trunk of a car had several sets of keys with him, according to the family's pastor and friend, Rick Van Gundy. He says among them was the key to the locked car 2 year-old Isaiah Theis' body was discovered in late Wednesday night.
Van Gundy was among those who took part in the search for Isaiah. He says he used a flashlight himself to look inside and under the car, but says it never occurred to anyone at the time to look in the trunk because the car was locked.
Preliminary autopsy reports show Isaiah likely died of hyperthermia due to the heat.
The Polk County Sheriff's Department released a brief statement summarizing preliminary findings from the autopsy Friday. The examination showed the boy was normally developed and well-nourished. It revealed no sign of any diseases, traumatic injuries or broken bones.
The statement listed the cause of death as probable hyperthermia, a condition where body temperature spikes. The manner of death is still under investigation. Toxicology tests are still pending.
"Obviously this is pretty much the worst ending we could have come to," Sheriff Peter Johnson said Friday at the end of a news conference, where he read a statement about the autopsy but did not take questions. "The only thing worse would have been if we would have never found him."
The boy's mother told investigators he disappeared Tuesday evening while playing with his 7-year-old brother at their home near Centuria, Wis., about 60 miles northeast of St. Paul, Minn.
The sheriff's department launched an exhaustive all-day search Wednesday amid blistering heat. A deputy finally found the boy's body late Wednesday evening in the trunk of a locked car parked outside the boy's home. His father runs an auto shop on the property, and the discovery was made when the car's owner came to retrieve it.
Searchers had looked inside the car and checked the area around it several times, the sheriff said in an earlier statement, but no one looked in the trunk.
Chief Deputy Steve Moe told reporters at a news conference Thursday that, in hindsight, he wished they had. But he said searchers were operating under the assumptions that Isaiah had wandered off, which he had a tendency to do, and that all the cars were locked so he couldn't get in them. He said deputies didn't have access to the keys, and that he's not certain whether the keys were on the property.
"Would we liked to have forced entry to the car? Yeah, from my personal perspective," Moe said.
He declined to speculate on how the boy ended up in the trunk and wouldn't say whether investigators consider his death an accident or the result of foul play.
The voice mailbox for the boy's parents, Justin and Shawn Theis, was full on Friday and would not take any more messages.
About 2,450 civilian volunteers helped search the fields and woods surrounding the family's home throughout the day Wednesday, the sheriff said.
Debbra White, 51, of Milltown, Wis., left a teddy bear and a wind chime at a makeshift memorial near the scene. White told the Star Tribune that she lost her 8-year-old son more than 20 years ago when he drowned in the St. Croix River.
"There's nothing I can say to bring their son back," White said.
Van Gundy says funeral services for Isaiah are pending for next week.
Click here to donate to a memorial fund for Isaiah.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.