SALEM, Ind. — As local, state and federal authorities work to identify a child found dead inside a suitcase in Washington County, community members gathered at several locations Sunday to pay their respects and bring awareness to the case.
Todd Murphy, a chaplain with the Washington County Sheriff’s Department and minister with the Sugar Creek Christian Church, said it was in a community Facebook page where someone suggested a prayer vigil would be an appropriate way to honor the boy.
“I think anybody and everybody can relate to something like this happening to a child and how much this would hurt you if it were your child, or if it was your grandchild, niece or nephew, and so I think it’s easy for the whole country to see this and see how horrible the whole situation is and want to help,” said Murphy.
While Murphy helped organize and lead in prayer those who attended the vigil outside the courthouse in Salem, another vigil was held at Pekin Park, with a third on the south end of the county. All three were organized with the same goal in mind.
“Maybe, somewhere, we can find this little guy’s family. The ultimate goal here is to get him home,” said Murphy.
According to Indiana State Police, the boy, believed to be about five years old, was found by a mushroom hunter on the night of April 16 in the 7000 block of East Holder Road. The location is near a heavily wooded area in Washington County.
Investigators revealed the boy was found inside a closed hard suitcase with a distinctive Las Vegas design on its front and back. They’ve released photos of the suitcase in hopes that it will generate tips that will lead to the identification of the child.
“The child was found inside a suitcase that was sealed. He did not put himself there and wind up approximately 80 feet off the road in a wooded area by himself,” Sgt. Carey Huls told CBS4 last week.
Investigators described the boy as a black male, approximately four feet tall, with a slender build and a short haircut. Despite an autopsy being done, investigators said no cause of death has been determined and hope that a toxicology report, which is still pending, might help shed more light on his cause of death.
“The little boy was just treated with so much disrespect and disregard I felt like I needed to come out here and pay respect to him,” said Kathleen Brewer.
“The little boy’s just starting his life, his whole future ahead of him and somebody just discarded him like a piece of trash,” said David Brewer.
David and Kathleen, who moved from Indianapolis about a year and a half ago to Washington County, said they wanted to come to the vigil because it was the least they could do after what someone did to this child.
Both said this has weighed heavily on their minds and hearts all week since they learned the news of the discovery.
“It gives me hope that there are a lot of good people in this world that take time out of their lives to come and show respects to a little boy like this,” David said.
“I think it’s impacted everybody in the whole county, and I think that’s what you’re seeing. You’re seeing a lot of people reaching out, talking about it, worried about it, wanting to know what can we do to help, it’s been very impactful to the community and that’s why doing things like this is so important for us,” said Murphy.
Murphy said, some of those in attendance, came from even beyond the Hoosier state.
“I talked to one couple, they were from across the river, they were from down from I think Louisville area, and they just wanted to come and show their support,” he added. “That’s what we see and I think that’s an amazing thing. Nobody wants to see any child done like this.”
Murphy hopes this will help garner more attention on a national scale to help bring closure to the case and answers for the young boy still left nameless as investigators are tirelessly searching for answers.
“This young man was not respected in life. We want to make sure that he is respected in death and so Washington County is going to make sure we do everything we can to make sure that happens,” Murphy said.
He credited the law enforcement agencies that have been working on the case and hopes the right lead will come soon.
State police are working with the FBI and have been in contact with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, authorities confirm. So far, police said the boy doesn’t appear to be a match for any known case involving a missing child.
Police told CBS4 they believe they’re trying to identify a child who hasn’t yet been reported missing.
A dedicated tip line has been set up and ISP said investigators have received at least 200 calls from the public, but so far, none have led to the identification of the boy. Many of the calls are related to children already documented as missing, police said.
They’re asking anyone with information to call the toll-free number established for the case (888) 437-6432.