Earlier this month, the boy’s mother — Lakeshia Baker, 22 — confessed that she and her boyfriend beat her son with a belt and plastic hangers on April 15, leaving him to die on the bathroom floor of their Maywood apartment, Cook County prosecutors said.
Baker and the boyfriend, Michael Scott, 21, both have been charged with her son Bryeon Hunter’s death. Baker was ordered held without bail. Scott was held in lieu of a $750,000 bail.
Police began searching for Bryeon on April 16, starting at the couple’s home in the 300 block of South 10th Avenue and then expanding their effort to the Des Plaines River.
Heavy rains suspended the river portion of the search when the Des Plaines River swelled and the surrounding area began flooding.
“The river was up high, making it impossible to do what we needed to do,” Maywood Police Chief Tim Curry said. With the river level dropping and a sunny forecast ahead, it was time to get back out, Curry said Saturday.
Starting early in the morning, about 100 people joined the effort, including Maywood police and members of the Illinois Search and Rescue Council. Some volunteers arrived from Indiana.
The group started at the intersection of 1st Avenue and Lake Street and traveled to Washington Street, covering the area where the couple said Bryeon’s body was dumped.
From there, they searched along the river near Thatcher Avenue and back to Lake Street, said Andrew Holmes, who helped form the volunteer group.
Several in the group were struck by the grisly details of Bryeon’s death, a story that began as an Amber Alert search for a boy believed to have been kidnapped before Baker confessed that was a lie.
“I have four children of my own; it’s just heartbreaking,” said Betty Roberts, 37, of Schaumburg, as she walked through a wooded area along the water near 1st Avenue, scanning the terrain for signs of Bryeon. “He has to be in this water. He has to be somewhere.”
Robert Larson, 47, said he has been searching for 10 days, poking into abandoned cars, alleys near Baker’s home and inside an abandoned motel.
“I’m very, very tired,” Larson said, as his son -- who turns 7 on Sunday -- played nearby on a mound of rocks. “I’m physically and mentally exhausted.”
At one point, it appeared the search was over.
Investigators spotted a dusty black plastic bag on the banks of the river near Chicago and 1st Avenues.
A police officer wearing a mask and blue plastic gloves gently poked a hole in the bag with tweezers, while another investigator took pictures. But the contents proved to be mainly household materials.
“You kind of want it be the child, so we know we found him,” said Doresa Foots, 53, another volunteer.
Curry said the police effort to find the child’s remains will continue in the coming days, and predicted they will have to explore the river farther south.
“We simply need to find the body so we can lay it to rest,” Curry said.
Holmes said his group plans to meet Sunday at 9 a.m. outside the McDonald’s restaurant at 1st Avenue and Lake Street to begin searching again on its own.
Naomi Nix is a Chicago Tribune reporter and Joe Ruzich is a freelance reporter.