Escambia toddler found dead in car loved trucks, SpongeBob, outdoors

A toddler found dead in a car Sunday had wandered outside after telling his grandfather he was going to see his grandmother in another room. Instead, he found his way out of the house, through the fenced yard, and into the back seat of a car on a hot, muggy afternoon.

Today, Hezekiah Brooks' family is deeply mourning the loss of the cheerful 2-year-old who loved the outdoors, SpongeBob SquarePants and monster trucks.

"He was a wonderful, beautiful little boy. He came to me for protection,” said his grandfather, John P. Andrews, choking up. “And I failed him."

The little boy went missing about 2:30 p.m. Sunday near Hermey Avenue in the Warrington area. He was found near his home Sunday evening after an exhaustive search of the area, according to the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office.

Family members said the toddler went missing shortly after leaving the room where he was with his grandfather. The toddler and his two sisters lived with Andrews and his wife Deborah.

"We were just laying down, watching TV, eating lunch,” Andrews, 47, said. “He hopped down and said 'I'm going to go see Nana.' I went to do the laundry, came back and (said) 'Where's little man at?' and that's when we started looking," he said.

At that point, Andrews said he believes the toddler wandered out a door. While the home’s entrance door has three locks and a fenced yard, Hezekiah’s older siblings had been in and out of the house playing with neighborhood children and may have left the entrances unlocked.

Hezekiah’s grandmother Deborah Andrews, 48, contacted the Sheriff’s Department, fearing he had been abducted. The boy’s sippy cup had been found outside the fence in front of the home.

“All I could think of was ‘Oh my God, did someone take my grandson,’” Deborah Andrews said.

The Klass Kids Foundation, the Escambia County Search and Rescue and the Coast Guard all participated in the search within a six-mile radius of the home, along with about 20 neighbors, John Andrews said. Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan, was also on scene, Andrews said.

About four hours later, Hezekiah was found lying on the floorboard of his grandfather’s Buick sedan with the windows rolled up. He was unresponsive. Efforts to resuscitate him failed, the Sheriff’s Office said.

Andrews said the toddler, who was a fan of cars, trucks and monster trucks, was able to open and close car doors on his own, but it didn’t occur to anyone to check the vehicle’s back seat until hours later. At one point, an investigator suggested opening the trunk of the vehicle, but did not find the child.

"I don't know why I didn't check the car," Andrews said, holding back tears. “Why didn't I look in the car? Why?"

An autopsy will be performed today, the Medical Examiner’s Office said. The Sheriff’s Office said there are no obvious signs of foul play.