RED LAKE, Minn. - The bodies of two toddlers who had disappeared from their home more than four months ago were found frozen in lake ice on the Red Lake Reservation.
Tristan White, age 4, and Avery Stately, age 2, were found about a half mile from their home in the ice on First Thunder's Lake. The bodies were found floating, partially encased in ice as the spring breakup began. The bodies were discovered early April 1 and not recovered until later that evening.
On Nov. 22, 2006, the boys had been playing outside their home and were discovered missing around mid-morning by Alicia White, the boys' mother. She said the boys had wandered away from their home when they lived in a different reservation community, but were always found shortly after.
The Walking Shield community, where the family now lives, is heavily wooded and the search was made more difficult because of a series of small lakes in the area. Alicia White said that Avery, even though he was good walker, would have had trouble walking through the woods, which are filled with ground cover.
A search by hundreds of volunteers, tribal, state and federal authorities and local communities along with the FBI with search dogs turned up no trace of the boys. The dogs lost the scent at the road next to the boys' home. The path that led to the lake was also searched. The lake had a thin coating of ice with some open areas. Divers and underwater cameras, along with an air search with heat sensing equipment turned up no evidence in the lake.
The family continued to hold out hope that the boys would be found safe, and continued to believe that the boys were abducted from their yard since no trace of them was found during the extensive search.
In November, Myron Jones Jr., the boys' uncle, told Indian Country Today that residents of the area had seen a pickup truck that was not from the reservation, which led the family to fear abduction. Jones said at the time that the family was touched by the outpouring of help from not only the reservation community, but from the surrounding areas as well.
More than 300 leads came into FBI offices, all of which were investigated. The FBI and the Red Lake Tribal Council offered rewards for any information and this spring billboards in the Twin Cities area could be seen with the boys' photos.
White purchased Christmas presents for the boys in hopes that they would be returned by the holidays.
There was no evidence of foul play at the time of the boys' disappearance, but the FBI and other authorities did not rule it out of the equation.
A new search this spring involved volunteers from the Duluth, Minn., area and dogs that came up with a scent near the lake. The spring thaw presented a logical time to resume the search because the thaw changed the landscape somewhat allowing the dogs to pick up a scent and the bodies to float to near the surface with the ice breakup.
FBI Special Agent Ralph Boelter, who was in charge of the search said he identified the bodies by sight while still in the water.
''Today our worst fears were confirmed,'' Boelter said at a news conference.
FBI spokesman Paul McCabe said it is entirely possible the bodies had been in the lake since November. The lake has abundant weeds, which make a search difficult, and authorities said the bodies possibly sank to the bottom of the lake making the search more difficult at the time they disappeared.
McCabe said the FBI had always held to two theories: foul play, although there was no evidence indicating that, or the boys just wandered off.
The entire close-knit community on the Red Lake Reservation is mourning the loss. As searchers covered the area, elders offered prayers at the tribal center and the family later gathered at the center to mourn their loss while consoled by tribal members. Red Lake has closed its reservation to visitors.
Autopsies will be performed to determine the cause of death.
''So many people were hoping for a safe return of these boys back home. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family in the wake of this disappointing news, and their heartbreaking loss,'' said Floyd Jourdain Jr., Red Lake tribal chairman.
''At this time an investigation is ongoing and there have been no conclusions made by authorities other than that the bodies discovered are in fact of the two missing boys,'' he said.