JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A missing 5-year-old boy was found dead in a pond on Sunday, about two hours after he was reported missing, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office said.
JSO Assistant Chief Brian Kee said Mohamad Waleen Mohamad Nour was reported missing by his parents at 8:48 a.m. after he was last seen around 6 a.m. Sunday on Stone Pond Drive, near the intersection of Beach and Hodges boulevards.
Kee said officers arrived within minutes and a search began. Kee said 32 JSO officers, 48 personnel with the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department, K-9s, boats, drones and a helicopter were involved. Shortly after 10 a.m., the Sheriff’s Office posted the boy’s photo on social media and asked for the public’s help locating him.
Around 10:50 a.m., Kee said, a JFRD boat found the boy dead in a pond just east of his neighborhood.
Homicide detectives are now investigating the case.
Kee said it appeared the child, who police said had autism and was nonverbal, got out of this home through the front door.
“The parents have tried to take steps to keep him guarded,” Kee said at a media briefing Sunday afternoon. “It looks like he went out the front door, maybe unlatched it. The door was found unlatched this morning by when they called police.”
Neighbors told News4Jax that they want the family to know the boy was loved and they did what they could to try to find him.
“I’ve never been more proud of our neighborhood, to be honest with you. Even surrounding neighborhoods. We went into surrounding neighbors and people were out in their pajamas looking for this little boy because we all care,” said a neighbor.
“I just want the mom to know that her little boy mattered to each and everyone one of us. We tried our very best, and our hearts are with her. We cared what happened this morning,” said one woman who helped out in the search. “Several people walked around the pond, including us. I watched a police officer walk the entire pond. The helicopters went over and over and over, but it’s a small area, and they did their very best -- everyone did.”
The woman said the boy’s death has shaken their community.
“We have kids too and we were heartbroken when we found out what happened,” said neighbor Gerald Nezir.
David Childers, a neurodevelopmental pediatrician, said it’s a challenge to keep autistic kids safe from retention ponds in the area.
“Autism is actually a language disorder,” he said. “In a child who has a language of less than a year and a nonverbal child, you have to approach that child as if they understand the world, like less than a 1-year-old, but they may have motor skills far in excess of those abilities.”
Childers recommends parents with autistic children get double key locks and keep the key out of the child’s reach.
“The No. 1 cause of death for a child with autistic disorder in the United States is drowning, and we live in a city that’s full of retention ponds,” Childers said. “So it’s so important that we keep the doors locked so the child cannot get out.”
Childers said parents should stack gates in the child’s room like a large play pin. They should take the bed off the frame so they aren’t trampolines, change the thermostat on hot water heaters so the child won’t burn, and encourages safety harnesses in public as well as handicap parking.
Childers said it takes everyone to protect children.
“Would it be beneficial for families with children who are autistic to maybe get their neighbors involved and let them know, this is my child’s condition?” he said. “That would be an excellent suggestion. I was a Navy physician for 16 years. And on-base housing, we would actually put up deaf child signs in the neighborhood. Because children with an autistic disorder or severe developmental delay, will not respond to a car horn and they don’t understand cars is dangerous.”
Some neighbors said they think retention ponds should be fenced in to help prevent incidents like this.
The city of Jacksonville has information on retention pond safety available by clicking or tapping here.