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Disappearance turns into criminal case
Written by Mark Lineberger   
Tuesday, 03 August 2010 00:00

The search for a 2-year-old boy who disappeared from a local campground more than a week ago is now being treated as a criminal investigation, Yavapai County Sheriff Steve Waugh said Monday, Aug. 2.

Sylar Newton, 2, was reported missing around 2:30 a.m.  on July 25 at the Beaver Creek Campground, southeast of I-17 on Forest Road 618.Syler Newton

A call to the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office from the camp host first alerted deputies, who arrived on the scene to begin a search of the area just before 3 a.m.

At a press conference at the Yavapai County Courthouse in Camp Verde on Monday, YCSO Sgt. Jeff Newnum said that nine days of extensive searching had turned up absolutely no trace of the missing child.

Waugh said investigators are now working under the assumption that Sylar is dead, and the search has now turned into an effort to locate any remains.

“We believe he did not wander from the campground and is presumably dead,” Waugh said. “The investigation is now criminal.”

Still, Lt. Tom Boelts with the YCSO Criminal Investigation Bureau said investigators were not completely ruling out the possibility that Sylar could have been taken from the campground and is still alive.

“We’re following up leads as they come in,” Boelts said. “There’s a possibility that he’s alive somewhere, but we have no credible leads.”

While reiterating that this disappearance is now
being treated as a criminal investigation, Boelts stopped short of calling it a homicide investigation.

The boy had been reportedly sleeping in a tent with his custodial mother, her mother and the custodial mother’s 12-year-old daughter.

The custodial mother’s 14-year-old son and another 14-year-old boy were in another tent. The family is from the Flagstaff area.

Interviews with other campers led investigators to determine that the last time anyone outside the family heard Sylar was around 8 or 9 p.m. Saturday, Boelts said.
Newnum said that extensive resources were used to scour the area, including dozens of volunteers, scuba divers and swift water teams, sonar, horses, a helicopter and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children provided assistance, helping to calculate how far a 2-year-old in a diaper with no shoes could have traveled by the time the search began.

“Our experience is that a 2-year-old has no survival instincts,” Newnum said. “If he’s hungry, he cries, if his diaper is dirty, he cries. We’d thought we’d hear [Sylar] cry, but unfortunately that just didn’t happen.”

Bloodhounds who were searching for Sylar based on the scent from one of the boy’s sandals didn’t want to leave the campground area, Newnum said. Even when they forced them to search in other areas, Newnum said the dogs still wanted to come back to the campground.

Investigators also spent three days searching through 200 tons of trash at the Gray Wolf Landfill hoping to find any trace of Sylar’s remains, but found nothing.

Newnum said the search started to turn into a recovery effort after Thursday evening, adding there are two documented reports of a toddler surviving 96 hours in the wilderness.

As of Monday, Newnum said investigators and volunteers had spent nearly 5,000 man-hours in the search for Sylar.

Newnum said the search had been “heartbreaking.” The average shift for searchers was 10.8 hours, and when the command tent came down, no one wanted to leave.

“I got an e-mail from one of my incident commanders,” Newnum said. “He said, ‘We’ve all fallen in love with Sylar even though we’ve never met him.’ It’s the type of thing that makes you really want to go home and hug and kiss your children .... The search will not end until we find Sylar.”

By Thursday night, YCSO deputies had finished interviewing all registered sex offenders in the Verde Valley, but the effort turned up no additional leads.

The custodial mother and grandmother submitted to lie detector tests, something YCSO Spokesman Dwight D’Evelyn said is standard procedure in cases like this. Boelts said the results of the polygraph tests still need to be reviewed and were not currently available to investigators.

The family has been cooperative with investigators and the search, according to D’Evelyn.

No end date has been set for the search, which continues while investigators are also looking into any circumstances that might “shed light” on the disappearance, according to D’Evelyn.

Recordings of the 9-1-1 call and a call from the camp host to YCSO were released over the weekend.
The 9-1-1 call recording, which was received by the Sedona Fire District, is of someone reporting that his friend’s brother is missing. The second call, from the camp host to YCSO, recorded the host reporting that a 2-year-old was missing, but that he knew little information beyond that.

Additional information is currently being withheld by YCSO to prevent releasing anything that could possibly jeopardize the investigation, according to D’Evelyn.

Sylar’s custodial mother told investigators she was in the process of adopting Sylar. FBI agents located Sylar’s biological mother, who lives out-of-state; detectives are still looking into the circumstances of Sylar’s adoption process.

Boelts said that accounts differ, but it
appears the woman has had custody of Sylar since he was around 3 months old, or possibly 1 year old.

The campground has now been reopened to the public. Anyone with any information about Sylar’s disappearance is asked to call YCSO at (928) 771-3260 or Yavapai Silent Witness at (800) 932-3232. Callers do not have to give their name.


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