PUTNAM COUNTY, Fla. – After searching for more than 24 hours, the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office announced Monday they found 1-year-old Jose Lara.
They found his body in a septic area of the property. Sheriff Gator DeLoach said weeds, dirt and plywood covered the opening, and the little boy appears to have stepped on the rotted plywood and fell in.
“It’s not an uncommon practice in a situation like this when there’s a child missing to search the septic tank as well,” Sheriff H.D. Gator DeLoach said. “Actually one of our leadership team members that made the call to drain the septic tank. At that point it was unfortunately when we discovered the child’s body.”
“We were praying for him,” said Albert Gutierrez, pastor of Iglesia Internacional JesuCristo Es El Senor. “Church was praying, hoping everything was okay but they thought maybe it was a kidnapping, but it didn’t happen.”
The church is located next door to the Lara family. It serves the local Hispanic community which has a large population in the area south of Crescent City.
Pastor Gutierrez rents property to Jose’s family and said the child’s mother had recently moved to Florida from Central America.
“She came from Honduras a little over a year ago I guess,” Gutierrez said. “Because she got pregnant, her husband was here. She had a baby.” Gutierrez continued, “So it was roughly about a year. Horrible for this family. Yes. There’s no words.”
Janet Arce, who has a nonprofit in her name, drove from Deland to help the Lara family since the search began.
‘We just decided this morning that we wanted to cook and help out,” Arce said.
Since Sunday afternoon, teams worked side-by-side and with hound dogs to find Jose. Their ground search included a mile radius to two square miles, and body heat detection technology.
The Sheriff’s Office says there is nothing to indicate foul play, but it is still an active investigation. Sheriff DeLoach asked everyone keep the family in their prayers.
Attorney Kay Harper Williams represented the family of Amari Harley, a 3-year-old boy who drowned in an unsecured septic tank at a Jacksonville park in 2017.
“This is another completely preventable tragedy,” she said.
She says these types of drownings happen several times a year across the country and that simple actions can save lives.
“If it is true that the septic tank opening was covered with plywood, that would not meet any standards and it should have minimally had a high-density plastic cover and those covers are less than 50 bucks,” Williams said.
The search for the missing 1-year-old boy began Sunday afternoon in an area in the area of US Highway 17 South just north of the Volusia County line.
Jose Lara was last seen around 1:15 p.m. playing with his sibling in the backyard of their home. His mother took his sibling into their home to wash them up, and when she returned, Jose was gone.
Colonel Joseph Wells with the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office gave an update Monday morning and said three bloodhound teams, two air units and dozens of deputies helped with the search.