Sheriff: Death of NC child who left home likely accidental

Raul Johnson (Photo: NC Department of Public Safety)

LAURINBURG, N.C. (AP) — The death of a 4-year-old North Carolina boy whose body likely is the one found Saturday in a drained pond probably was accidental, an emotional sheriff said at a news conference.

People searched for Raul Gonzalez Johnson and prayed for his recovery, Scotland County Sheriff Ralph Kersey said. “But this is the outcome everyone feared,” he said, his voice cracking as he struggled to speak. “It is heartbreaking.”

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The 3-foot-tall Raul, wearing a tiger-striped T-shirt and rocket ship pajama pants, left his home Wednesday while his grandfather was babysitting, authorities have said. Raul went to the home of a neighbor, who told him to go back to his home, they said.

A medical examiner must confirm the identity and cause of death. But Kersey and another investigator said they had met Raul late last year when he came to the sheriff’s office with his parents so they knew what he looked like.

“Right now, it is an accidental death,” the sheriff said.

Authorities began draining the pond Saturday morning, one day after the FBI took over the investigation. They pumped about 8,000 gallons of water from the pond before they found the body, Kersey said.

Divers had previously searched the pond without finding the body.

The home is about 2,000 feet from the South Carolina line.