NBC4 and The Associated Press have reported that the father of an 11-year-old California boy who went missing and is believed dead says his son did not have autism, as his ex-wife and authorities have said.
The boy's father, Terry Dewayne Smith Sr., also said he wasn't surprised at news that an as-yet unnamed family member of the boy was arrested on suspicion of murder Wednesday in the presumed death of Terry Dewayne Smith Jr.
Reached at his home in West Virginia, Smith told NBC4 that his son feared his 16-year-old half brother, whom he said had anger issues.
"It didn't come as a surprise with his past," Smith said.
Further complicating the story, Smith said his son did not have autism. Terry's mother, Shawna Smith, told reporters that the boy did.
“Nope, nope, nope," Terry Smith, Sr., said. "In fact, when everyone in West Virginia heard that, they all flipped because they know better. He was a hyper little boy, he might have had ADHD.”
Smith Sr. told The Associated Press on Thursday that his son moved to California to be with his mother in 2011.
Smith Sr. says the boy lived with him until age 8 in Charleston, West Virginia, and had recently called to say he wanted to come back.
Police found a body matching Terry's description Wednesday in a shallow grave under a tree about 75 feet from the house where he lived with his mother, half brother and other family members.
The boy was reported missing Sunday by his mother, Shawna Smith, and was last seen Saturday evening by his half brother, authorities have said.
A posting on a Facebook page devoted to the search said Terry's family worried he might have wandered off without food, water or special medication.
Authorities said late Wednesday that a 16-year-old male family member was arrested on suspicion of murder but declined to describe how the suspect was related to Terry.
The death was the result of "a domestic issue" at the house, said Menifee police Chief John Hill.
The discovery of the body brought an end to three days of non-stop searching by volunteers and law enforcement officers who combed the scrubby hills around this rural town 80 miles southeast of Los Angeles on horseback, from the air and using bloodhounds.
It wasn't immediately clear whether the body had been stashed near the boy's house the entire time and, if so, how initial searches failed to turn it up.
Riverside County sheriff's Deputy Albert Martinez did not return a call for comment Thursday. Authorities never ruled out the possibility of foul play, he said earlier. Hill declined to answer questions about the search at a news conference Wednesday and provided few details about the case.
The discovery of the body and subsequent arrest was devastating for the hundreds of volunteers who fanned out in 100-degree temperatures to look for Terry since the weekend.
Many skipped work or joined the search after work to check abandoned trailers and campsites in the hills around town and pass out fliers in nearby towns.
Among them was Marisa Bell, who joined the search from a nearby town because her own 9-year-old son has autism and she sympathized with the mother. Her own child is prone to wandering off because of his condition, she said.
With news that an arrest was made, Bell's worry turned to anger.
"The family allowed so many of us to come out and look and to come out and find this little boy," she said. "I said, 'Oh God, here is a mom and a little boy just like mine.' Apparently, that just wasn't true."