All morning the sad news spread through the Gold Coast high-rise: Charlie, the boy who had a smile for everyone, had died in a horrible accident, plummeting 46 floors down a trash chute.
"We're all shocked," said a woman who has worked for another family in the building for about 20 years. "He was such a sweetheart, he touched everyone because he was so sweet."
Charlie Manley was 16 and had autism and Down syndrome, authorities say. His father, John F. Manley, has served on the international board of directors of the Special Olympics.
Charlie's parents noticed he was missing from their home in the 48-story building in the 1500 block of North Astor Street late Monday, police said.
After searching the building and contacting police, the boy's body was discovered inside the building's trash compactor just after 11 p.m. He was dead at the scene.
Investigators were still trying to piece together exactly how the teen got there, police spokesman Ron Gaines said this morning. Authorities believe the boy fell from the 46th floor, where he lived with his family, officials said.
Jena, the woman who works for a family in the building, said the trash chutes are about two feet by two feet. "I could fit there," she said, demonstrating with her hands.
Jena, who would not give her last name, said everyone in the building knew Charlie for his big smile and friendly disposition. "He talked to everybody, he spoke Spanish: Have a good day, Happy New Year, Merry Christmas," said Jena, whose native language is Spanish.
She said the boy's family was well-liked. "Fantastic people," she said. "He was just a kid. He was always playing."
A woman who lives in the building said Charlie "was a wonderful young man who helped everyone."
"I'm a parent, so I can imagine what they are going through," she said.
The Manley family is well-known in Special Olympics, officials with the organization said. Manley’s father is a former member of Special Olympics’ international board of directors and has donated to the organization’s international programs and its programs in Illinois, said Barbara DiGuido, spokeswoman for Special Olympics Illinois.
John Manley, who is also vice chairman of the board for the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, has attended Special Olympics events around the world, DiGuido said. Charlie, who had two siblings, trained privately with a gymnastics coach who worked with Special Olympics athletes but did not compete in Special Olympics events, she said.
"Our hearts go out to the Manley family as they deal with Charlie’s tragic passing,” Dave Breen, president and CEO of Special Olympics Illinois, said in a statement. “They will be in the thoughts and prayers of the Special Olympics family around the world."
An autopsy conducted today found that the boy died of multiple injuries from the fall and his death was ruled an accident, according to the Cook County medical examiner's office.
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