AUSTIN, Man. — The joy of Easter was tempered by sadness in a Manitoba community following the tragic conclusion to the search for a missing two-year-old boy, but his grieving family says they have been overwhelmed by the support people have shown.
"Today, the family of Chase Martens is completely devastated as they come to grips with the tragic loss of their little boy," read a statement issued Sunday by the Canadian Centre for Child Protection on behalf of the boy's family.
The release said the family wants to express their heartfelt gratitude to RCMP, the provincial fire commissioner and community volunteers who took part in the search, which began Tuesday when the boy was last seen playing in the yard of his rural home near Austin.
The search involved hundreds of people on foot and horseback, driving ATVs and in the air.
His body was found Saturday in a creek about half-a-kilometre away.
"At this time, Chase's family is asking for privacy as they grieve with their young children," the statement from the child protection group said.
"While they are completely heartbroken, they have been overwhelmed by the love and kindness our community has shown their family."
Police say an autopsy was to be conducted, but there were no obvious signs of foul play in the death.
Later Sunday, family members took part in a vigil that was organized by the Bear Clan, a volunteer safety-patrol group from Winnipeg whose members helped with the search.
Group spokesman James Favel said the parents requested the service, which he said involved an honour singer as well as the laying of tobacco.
At the Austin Evangelical Fellowship church on Sunday, deacon Henry Peters spoke about the events, and the difficulties for Chase's family, to the congregation before delivering the Easter message.
"When we gathered here Friday morning for those of you that were here, we prayed that the Lord would help the searchers, that He would bring some answers to the family. And yesterday that answer came. Probably not the one that the family would have wanted to come, but at least they know where their child is," Peters told the congregation in a recording of the service posted on the church's website.
"As a Christian community and the teaching of the Bible, we have the faith and the confidence in our loving God and Heavenly Father that this child is in His presence at this time."
On Thursday the boy's parents had pleaded for any information that might lead to a reunion with their son, saying it was unusual for Chase to wander off the property without the family dog.
Sgt. Bert Paquet told reporters shortly after Saturday's discovery that he estimated close to 30,000 volunteer hours were donated during the search, the majority being strangers to the boy's family.
Paquet said the searchers kept hoping for the boy's survival, but knew the odds were challenging after the first few nights.
He said the creek was identified early on as a spot that experts advised be searched in greater depth, and teams visited those areas several times as the search expanded.
"This appears to be exactly what we all thought it was — a tragedy," Paquet told reporters.
Paquet said a team of investigators will continue to work to determine how the little boy died.
By The Canadian Press