An autopsy will be performed Monday on the body of a 5-year-old boy with autism who disappeared from a family party in the Lehigh Valley on New Year's Eve and was found dead on Saturday in a nearby canal.
The search for little Jayliel Vega Batista ended in tragedy Saturday, nearly two days after the little boy went missing, when authorities found Jayliel's body in the water at Canal Park on East Walnut Street in Allentown.
Search dogs tracked the boy's scent to the canal and a volunteer found the child's orange electronic tablet in the water. The Allentown Fire Department Dive Team was then called to the scene. They later found the boy's body six feet deep in the water about eight feet from the shore.
Investigators believe Jayliel's death was a tragic accident and don't believe any foul play was involved. They are continuing to investigate, though, and said an autopsy will be performed on Monday.
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"Preliminarily, this is being considered a tragic accident," said Allentown Police Chief Keith Morris.
Officials say the boy was found about 1/4 a mile away from where he went missing. They have not yet confirmed a cause of death or whether he died before or after entering the water.
Batista, who had autism, wandered away from a New Year's Eve party at his great aunt's home in the area of South Aubrey and East South streets in Allentown at 11 p.m. Thursday, police and his family said.
He was not wearing shoes, socks or a coat. Temperatures were near freezing Friday night into Saturday, rising only into the 30s.
"He was playing downstairs with his toy like he was supposed to with all the other kids and then he left out of nowhere," Tayritza Molina, the boy's sister, said.
Experts say some young children with autism will wander away due to a fear of the public. They also say many kids with autism are attracted to bodies of water.
"Every autistic child is different," said Terri Matthews, founder of Jaden's Voice, a national charity that supports people with autism as well as their families. "Some are very interested in water, some stay away from it. To them water is safe. It doesn't necessarily remind them of danger."
Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski thanked the law enforcement agencies, eleven search and rescue organizations and hundreds of volunteers who helped with the search during a news conference Saturday evening.
"Please, please continue to pray for the family," Pawlowski said. "Support them. Pray for them and also please respect them during this grieving period. This is a sad conclusion to the search. This is a sad day for our city. But as always the city pulled together. I'm extremely proud of our residents."
Pawlowski also said a local funeral director offered to pay for the boy's burial. A candlelight vigil was held for the child Saturday night.