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At 12:26 p.m. Sunday Bedford County 911 dispatchers received a call from a Goodview residence reporting a 6-year-old child missing from the home on Smith Mountain Lake.
The caller advised that the child had been missing 15 minutes prior to making the call. Rescue personnel along with law enforcement were dispatched to the scene.
Five agencies participated in the search: the Moneta Volunteer Fire Department, Moneta Rescue Squad, Smith Mountain Lake Fire and Rescue, the dive team from Scruggs Fire and Rescue and Bedford County’s career fire and rescue personnel, according to Jeff Pauley, president of the Moneta Volunteer Fire Department.
Virginia Conservation Police and the Bedford County and Franklin County Sheriff’s offices all brought boats. Franklin County also brought a bloodhound. Pauley said that there were a total of 40 first responders at the scene.
While the water search went on, others conducted a search on land. Pauley said that, in situations involving a small child, it’s possible that he could actually still be on land and just wandered off.
“You start off hoping for the best,” said Pauley.
He said the searchers’ mood darkened as the land search turned up nothing and it became obvious that the child was in the water—and that it would probably be a recovery rather than a rescue.
At 3:26 p.m. divers located the victim’s body a short distance from the dock where he was last seen.
“Right off the edge of the dock they had been at earlier,” said Pauley.
The victim’s family is from Maryland and were visiting family at Smith Mountain Lake.
Pauley said that he can’t fathom what that would be like for the family to have to go home without a child. It was bad enough for the first responders and Pauley said he saw guys crying once the child was found.
“Our heart goes out to the family,” he said
“Everybody was affected by it,” he added. “It was just very terrible.”
Witnesses report the last time anyone saw the victim he was standing at the end of a dock. No one saw him go into the water.
When the people that were with the victim on the dock returned to the house, they realized he was missing. Earlier in the day the victim had been playing in the lake with his father and was wearing a life jacket and goggles, but when they got out he took his jacket off.
When the victim was located he was wearing his goggles. The victim could not swim.
The victim’s name had not been released as of press time.
“We are changing our plans with kids,” Pauley said, mentioning the impact this incident had on his thinking about safety.
Pauley lives on the Lake and said that he has kept life jackets in the dock building on his dock. When family comes to go out on the Lake, they walk down the dock and get the life jackets. When they return to the dock they take them off, while still on the dock, and put them in the dock building.
Pauley said that, from now on, life jackets for children will be kept in the house and the children will put them on before going to the dock, and, upon returning, wear them until they are off the dock.
He said that anyone who is not a swimmer, or is an average swimmer, should wear a personal floatation device when anywhere near the water. This is especially true of children, who Pauley said can unexpectedly decide to do something on a whim.