BELVIDERE TOWNSHIP — For the hundreds who helped with the search for a missing 5-year-old boy, through woods and through the mud, it didn’t matter that it started on Christmas Day.
Or, maybe it did.
The search for Beau Belson, which stretched for several miles, ended just after noon on Thursday, nearly 24 hours after he disappeared, when Michigan State Police divers found his body in a pond near his grandma’s house, not far from where he was last seen.
The volunteers had responded quickly as word spread about the disappearance of the boy, who was last seen while playing with relatives outside his grandma’s house near Fleck and Holland roads at 2:30 p.m. on Christmas Day.
They came from miles away, some with their own tracking dogs, some with drones and some delivering food for the searchers.
“We had people from Blanchard, Lakeview, Pewamo, Remus, a lot of surrounding communities. People come out and stuck together, and it’s amazing,” said Stewart Buskirk, of Six Lakes, who helped with the search.
As many as 1,000 volunteers, working with police, searched the woods, swamps and small lakes within a couple miles of Beau’s grandma’s home.
They were looking for a boy with autism that most did not know.
“It’s like seeing how many people walked hand-in-hand … trying to find him?” the boy’s aunt, Brittany Knapp, said. “It means a lot.”
Knapp said the boy had been playing outside with other relatives.
“I mean, we were just having Christmas. The kids were playing,” she said.
The family realized Beau was gone when they went inside. When they couldn’t find him, they called police.
The volunteers worked closely with police, including state police who searched with helicopters.
Some searched all night, and the search continued Thursday morning.
The pond next to Beau’s grandma’s house, partially covered with ice, was one of the first places searched on Wednesday, but police found no sign of the boy.
Then, just after noon on Thursday, a state police diver certified in ice searches returned to the pond and found the boy’s body under the ice.
“Unfortunately, I have some bad news to report,” MSP Lt. David Cope said. “We’re not sure if he just wandered into the water, fell in, we’re just not sure at this point.”
State police say they are awaiting an autopsy to determine a cause of death, but they saw no signs of foul play.
Later Thursday afternoon, most of the customers who walked into Six Lakes Flat River Saloon wore muddy boots.
“I have grandchildren. I love my grandbabies,” Buskirk said, tearing up. “These people are family around here.”
Visitation for Beau will take place Friday, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Brigham Funeral Home. His celebration of life will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at the New Beginnings Church in Six Lakes.