IDA TOWNSHIP — An intense search and a dramatic helicopter rescue attempt ended in tragedy and sorrow Sunday afternoon when a missing 4-year-old boy with autism drowned in the River Raisin after he wandered from his home.
Counselors were on hand this morning for the students and staff at the Riverside Early Learning Center where Jackson Kastner was a student.
“It’s just tragic,” said Donald Spencer, superintendent of the Monroe County Intermediate School District. “We’re sick about it. The staff works so closely with the kids and their parents. They’re just devastated.”
An autopsy was scheduled for this morning but Monroe County Sheriff Tilman Crutchfield said there was nothing suspicious involving the boy’s death, which he expects to be ruled as an accidental drowning. That’s why there was no Amber Alert issued.
“There was no reason for it,” the sheriff said this morning. “It was never a case of suspected foul play.”
Jackson was outside playing in the back yard of the family home on S. Custer Rd. west of Raisinville Rd. when his mother reportedly went inside the house for about four or five minutes, said Sgt. Jeff Kemp. The river is about 300 yards behind the house, police said.
“When she came back out, he was gone,” Sgt. Kemp said.
Jackson apparently enjoyed a neighbor’s playscape and that’s the first place his mother looked. But when he wasn’t there, she called 911 and that launched a search involving 40 to 50 volunteers from area fire and police departments, including three tracking dogs.
Paul Metz, chief of the Ida Township Volunteer Fire Department, coordinated the firefighters’ search. Jackson’s autism was such that he did not respond to his name and he often liked confined spaces, he said.
Chief Metz said firefighters, neighbors and others looked along the river bank.
“The whole time we were totally optimistic,” Chief Metz said, who wanted to thank the community for the effort. “We thought he was going to be fine. There were real high emotions.”
Around the same time, the sheriff’s aviator unit was deployed and searching from above. Pilot Joe Schumaker and deputies Don Duncan and Brian Francisco were in the Raptor about 300 feet above the ground when the two deputies spotted something yellow in the water, which was relatively clear.
It was part of the boy’s clothing.
“You could tell it was him,” Deputy Duncan said.
The boy’s body was spotted at a small island in the middle of the river across from Carrington Farms about 1½ miles downstream from the family home. Mr. Schumaker carefully landed the helicopter on the island.
“It took some fantastic flying skills to get there,” the sheriff said.
Just as he touched down, the two deputies jumped out of the chopper and retrieved the boy. They began life-saving efforts, then decided the best course of action was to fly him across the river to a waiting ambulance.
While police closed traffic on S. Custer Rd. in both directions, Mr. Schumaker landed the chopper in the middle of the road and the boy was taken to the ambulance, which rushed him to the hospital.
Doctors could not save him.
“It’s always extra difficult when it’s a young one,” Deputy Duncan said. “It’s tough.”
The sheriff said that although the rescue ended in tragedy, at least the boy was found quickly. The river’s currents were strong and there is no telling how long it would have taken for a recovery.
“It’s important that we were able to retrieve him and have quick closure for the family,” the sheriff said. “If it hadn’t been for the helicopter and the crew we would not have found him. It was a tremendous effort, but it’s sad.”