Boy found dead
Authorities: Death looks like 'tragic accident'

By Jessica Langdon/Times Record News
July 8, 2004

A massive hunt for a 3-year-old boy came to a heartbreaking end Wednesday, just one block away from his home.

Police found the body of Israel Vasquez inside a car at 1522 22nd St., Wichita Falls Police Department's Sgt. Kyle Collier said. The discovery came nearly 24 hours after the little boy disappeared.

"To this point, this just appears to be a tragic accident," Collier said, especially given the intense summer heat. But he said police would do a complete investigation as they would in any case to rule out foul play.

The child's body was taken to the Tarrant County Medical Examiner's Office for an autopsy.

News of the child's death brought sobs, hugs and sad silence among the crowds that had been trying for hours to find him.

Israel had been playing in his front yard at 1603 22nd St. late Tuesday afternoon, WFPD Sgt. Cindy Walker said. Israel's mother noticed he was missing after 5:30 p.m., and police were called into the search a few hours later, after 8 p.m.

Patrol officers and detectives worked through the night to find the child. Violent storms hit the city about 4 a.m. and added fears the 30-pound little boy would find his way into nearby Holliday Creek or be swept into the Wichita River.

"We've searched everything," Walker said Wednesday morning. She said police had already gone through back yards, checked doghouses and crawled under homes. They retraced their steps later, looking at everything again. Officers knocked on doors, asking for any information that might lead in a new direction.

The daytime search focused heavily on a six-mile stretch around the boy's home, reaching from Kell Boulevard to Hatton Road and going into east Wichita Falls.

A lot next to the Holliday Street Flea Market became a command post for search crews. A color photo showed a grinning boy. The picture was taped to a window at the command post. The child's vital information was written on a poster.

Police mapped out and color-coded areas that needed attention and sent out the teams.

"You've got a 3-year-old boy who's been missing for how many hours?" Walker said, looking at her watch about 10 a.m. Wednesday, about 17 hours after Israel vanished. She said police were called in from all shifts and from all departments, working overtime.

Police, the SCUBA team, search dogs and hundreds of friends, neighbors and volunteers combed parks, fields and neighborhoods for the 2-foot-tall boy with a shaved head.

Officers wrapped yellow crime investigation tape around volunteers' arms before sending them into the search. Volunteers carried fliers showing black and white pictures of Israel.

The investigation took a turn about 1:30 p.m. when police issued an Amber Alert. Walker announced three witnesses had offered information about an incident just before 6 p.m. Tuesday. She said an ice cream truck pulled onto Israel's street, and he went after it. Walker said the witnesses told police a woman bought the child ice cream and said he got into her car. They were looking for a woman described as skinny, in her late 20s, with long "dirty blond" hair, who was driving an older-model bluish-green car.

Police pulled search teams out of the boy's neighborhood. They sent in dogs from the Allred Prison Unit and the Search One Rescue Team in Dallas-Forth Worth. The dogs started at the family's home and fanned out from there, Walker said.

Volunteer searchers came back to the command post for fliers and took them to businesses to get Israel's face across the community.

Seeing Israel's face on the news spurred 4-year-old Jaraden Thomas into action. She immediately recognized her classmate and wanted to help. She clutched her class picture from last school year at Head Start. With an arm wrapped with a piece of yellow police tape, she pointed to her friend, Israel, smiling in the front row.

She urged people to help find her classmate, a boy who loved to play with trucks, she said.

That's how 13-year-old Maria Hernandez also remembered her young neighbor, who was a playmate of her little brother. She said the last time she saw Israel was about an hour before he disappeared, when he and her brother were playing with toy cars.

"He's a nice child," she said. "He's not a troublemaker." She said her family looked for him into the night Tuesday and spent Wednesday searching, too.

Sgt. Collier said new information came at about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, when a woman who'd seen the missing boy's picture approached an officer stationed outside the family's home. She told police that was the boy she'd seen down the street Tuesday evening, playing around a car.

Collier said the new information helped lead police to the child's body. Police found Israel inside the car, "in a secreted position," Collier said, "a hidden position."

Collier said the vehicle was not the same one connected to the Amber Alert. He didn't know how - or when - the little boy got into the vehicle but said those questions would be looked at in the investigation.

"We feel for the family deeply," Collier said, adding that most of the people involved in the investigation are also parents. "This is not a good ending to our investigation at all."

Israel's parents and other relatives spent the afternoon at their home and were notified of the death shortly after the body was found. The family has two other young children and a newborn, Collier said.

"We'll be praying for the family because they're really hurting right now," Collier said.

Reporter Jessica Langdon can be reached at (940) 763-7530 or by email at langdonj(at)TimesRecordNews.com.