Bloodhounds led deputies to a 2-year-old boy in pond behind his home in northern St. Johns County on Wednesday morning, but efforts of rescuers and doctors at Baptist Medical Center couldn't revive the child.
The Sheriff's Office said the family called 911 at 7:39 a.m. to report the door to their home on Linda Lake Lane was open and their special needs child, Jet Gonzalez, was missing.
Dozens of deputies were dispatched to search the Sandy Creek neighborhood off State Road 210 just off Interstate 95.
"We launched helicopters, we dispatched our dive team here because we knew we did have bodies of water that were of concern to us for any time a 2-year-old goes missing in circumstances such as this," St. Johns County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Chuck Mulligan said.
It was a bloodhound from the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office that found the boy.
"Along the edge of the water there's some culverts, there's some obstructions, there's some material there, and the child was found along that area, so the child was not readily visible from where he was found," Mulligan said.
"I saw them bring the little boy out and put him on the grass over here, and it's terrible," neighbor Mike Stanchie said.
Deputies said the family had searched on their own for about 45 minutes before calling for help.
Cpl. Catherine Payne said time is of the essence in a missing child case.
"(We sent) every resource that we could deploy to this area to make sure that we located him as quickly and safely as possible," Payne said.
The Sheriff's Office said that while there was every indication the boy's death was an accident, an autopsy would be conducted and the investigation into the circumstances of his death is continuing. The Florida Department of Children and Families will also investigate, which is standard practice after any death of a child outside of a doctor's supervision.
"We have to determine if there's something that leads us to a criminal fact finding, and at this juncture we're not there," Mulligan said. "We do know that children will wander sometimes, especially children with special needs, they're attracted to different issues. And so we'll take that one step at a time."
Stanchie, who recently moved to the area, said the number of pools and ponds around with so many children in the neighborhood concerns him.
"I love the ponds, but I didn't think about the protection until all of this happened today," Stanchie said. "That a little a fence back there or something behind the homes, I don't know if it would be the responsibility of the owners or the community or builders or something like that, but this should maybe put an alert out there to somebody."
Channel 4 safety expert Ken Jefferson said this tragedy serves as a reminder for all parents to always keep as close a watch as possible on their children.
"They repeat what they see," he said. "They see you pushing a door to go through it, turning a knob. They'll try to mimic that. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't."
Jet had Down syndrome. His father is stationed at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, and about a dozen of his colleagues were out there in uniform for support Wednesday morning. There was also a victim advocate with the family.
Family and friends brought flowers and visited Jet's family Wednesday afternoon try to comfort them as they mourn his sudden death.