Several agencies are investigating after a missing 2-year-old boy was found dead Wednesday evening in a septic tank near his Bradford County family's home.
More than 100 volunteers searched the neighborhood for about an hour before Aiden Howard's body was found in an uncovered septic tank only 10 to 15 feet from his home. Bradford County Sheriff Gordon Smith said the death of the toddler does appear to be an accident, but Smith said it was an accident that could have been avoided.
"These types of situations are totally inexcusable because somebody was too sorry, too lazy or negligent to cover a whole in a septic tank and apparently had been unclosed for some period of time," Smith said.
IMAGES: Starke boy dies in septic tank
The Sheriff's Office issued a missing child alert about 6:30 p.m. and immediately began searching for the boy in the area of Northeast 162nd Way in Starke.
Volunteers, investigators, a K9 unit and helicopter from neighboring Alachua County searched the woods near the home. A septic company was called to pump out the tank, but the sheriff and one of his officers pulled the child's body out before the truck arrived.
Neighbors searched sheds, yards, woods and ditches in the moments after Aiden disappeared.
Lattimore Williams and his wife, Tricia, said the boy's grandmother was frantic, asking them if they'd seen the toddler.
"Tragic, the whole neighborhood, I know she looked a little bit, and we have a pastor at the end of the road, they have a couple kids, they were all up and down the road late last night with flashlights looking in the woods and everything," Tricia said.
Investigators said Aiden's parents and three other adults were in the house when the boy went missing. The victim's 3-month-old sister was also home at the time.
The Sheriff's Office says the family searched on its own for about 40 minutes before calling 911.
The family has been interviewed by investigators with the the Department of Children and Families, which is also looking into the case.
"The investigation is still ongoing. But rest assured that if we can charge somebody, we're going to charge somebody," Smith said. "Because this was something that could have been avoided, something as simple as covering up a hole on a septic tank. There's no excuse for that. That's just laziness or sorry-ness or just unacceptable. Very negligent. We take that very serious. No excuse. We've lost the life of a young child that could have been prevented."
The preliminary autopsy report lists the cause of death as drowning.
In addition to the Sheriff's Office and DCF, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Medical Examiner's Office are assisting in the investigation.
"There are several things that could possibly come out of this investigation," said Capt. Carol Starling, of the Sheriff's Office. "Certainly, it could be a code violation that is involved, it could be negligence. There's a lot of issues that have to be resolved through the investigative process."