PERIDO KEY, Fla. - Relatives of 8-year-old Owen Black said their lives will surely never be the same after the boy's body was discovered in the water off Perdido Key Sunday, May 19.
Black's aunt, Liz Blum, said the family is too distraught to talk about the tragedy but wanted to thank the hundreds of volunteers and law enforcement officials who helped search for the child.
In a letter sent to FOX10 News, the family writes in-part:
"From the beginning of this horrible nightmare our prayer was to find Owen. Not finding Owen would have been much worse than Sunday's devastating news. This amazing community helped that happen and we will forever be thankful."
Black, who was autistic and could not speak, wandered away from his parents' rental condo in Perdido Key while his mother was sleeping.
His disappearance triggered a massive search unlike anything locals said they've ever seen.
"I can't even put my finger on how many agencies there were because there were so many different uniforms I have never seen," said Alan Taylor, who was working at Happy Harbor on the Line near where a command center was set up.
There were also hundreds of volunteers. Among them was Craig Thompson, an Orange Beach firefighter who was off duty celebrating his anniversary when he and his wife joined the search.
"If it was our kid or our friend's kid, I'd want everyone to join doing everything they could so you just can't sit at home in moments like that," he said.
"Our whole community felt that. Our whole community came together as a group and we searched so hard," said Ella Clark, who volunteered for two days straight.
Search teams scoured the beach front and sand dunes for hours on end, alongside agencies including Escambia County Search and Rescue, Daphne Search and Rescue, different sheriffs' deputies and numerous other municipalities.
On Sunday, May 19, Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan fought back tears as he announced that Black's body had been found in the water.
They believe he got trapped in the undertow.
Black's family reached out to thank all those involved.
"Please know this. We are so thankful for the outpouring of love and support from friends, family, and from people that we did not even know."
FOX01 is awaiting the final autopsy results and cause of death, however, authorities do not suspect foul play.
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