JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - As city workers reinspected the access point to the underground tank where 3-year-old Amari Harley's body was found Sunday night, the boy's family, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, city leaders and the Florida Department of Children and Families all want to know how he got inside.
Some residents said the water tank was covered with a green plastic lid when it happened. That lid is now next to a garbage can a few feet away from where city screwed down plywood over that tank access and others in the area.
Other residents told News4Jax the hole was not covered at all.
A memorial continues to grow nearby as loved ones bring flowers and balloons. Some people come in silence. Others stare in disbelief. Amari’s family is trying to cope with the boy’s death and are asking for prayers.
"We just need prayer," Amari's cousin, Kamilla Jenkins, said. "We were all out here. No need to think anything like this would happen because it was just be family and friends. Who would’ve expected a septic tank not to be covered?"
Jenkins said she keeps asking herself how Amari disappeared in the first place.
"How did he slip away? What could we have done different?" she said.
Amari's father described his son a “smart kid who loved WWE wrestling and Captain America."
Amari's paternal grandfather visited Bruce Park in Arlington on Monday morning. He was too grief-stricken to speak on camera, but he said he wants to know what happened to his grandson and why.
"It's just hard to believe," relative Denise Barns said.
The city of Jacksonville issued a statement about Amari's death:
We are so incredibly saddened by this tragedy. As JSO conducts its investigation, the city is assisting them by providing any information that will lead to a thorough and full review. The city is also inspecting and analyzing how this tragedy may have occurred, to ensure that all city parks are safe and secure. The safety and security of visitors to city parks are paramount.
Bruce Park is one of 76 parks that have septic or lift stations for restroom sewage. There are more than 120 of the systems throughout the city (multiple can be at one location). They are inspected every month."
There are several types of lid coverings for the systems ranging from metal, fiberglass, and concrete, which are attached with bolts, screws, or latches. The Bruce Park system has a bolt covering that is affixed to its dosing tank.
Based on our review, the Bruce Park septic tank system has received inspections every month, with its last conducted on September 12th. (October report will be available after the month has concluded). All operations were noted as OK, meaning that it met all inspection standards. In February, the Bruce Park lid was secured, following an inspection on February 13th."
Amari was reported missing about 4:30 p.m. Sunday during a family birthday party at Bruce Park. The search for the boy grew to involve dozens of officers, citizens and a helicopter. A Florida Missing Child Alert was issued at 7:15 p.m.
Police called Public Works about opening a water tank at the park and confirmed it was large enough for Amari to get in. The tank was drained and a body matching Amari's description was found at 7:50 p.m.
"That's sad, because I have a 3-year-old granddaughter and I keep an eye on her real good,"
said Janice Levett, who helped in Sunday's search for Amari. "I know what they're going through because I've went through it, too."
JSO Assistant Chief Scott Dingee said Sunday night there is a cover for the tank, but he "wasn't sure of the status of it." He said investigators don't know how Amari got inside the tank, and while foul play was not suspected, "all options are on the table."
Police said they are searching for surveillance video that could show how Amari got into the tank and posted a message Monday on Facebook asking for anyone who was there between noon and 5 p.m. who might have information that could help to call the Sheriff's Office.
"During the short investigation, we have attempted to make contact with everyone that was at the park during the time Amari went missing. We have spoken to numerous witnesses that were present, however, due to the size of the park and the multiple events going on at the time, we believe there are others that may have pertinent information that could assist detectives in this case," the JSO wrote.
An autopsy was to be conducted Monday, but the results may not be released until the police investigation is completed.
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