Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

News that missing boy was found dead devastates volunteers

VALRICO –– Hundreds of volunteers spent hours searching for a missing 2-year-old Valrico boy. Some scoured country roads until 3 a.m. Saturday and returned after daybreak, armed with coffee, mittens and walking canes.

So when Sheriff David Gee announced early Saturday afternoon that the toddler was found dead in a septic tank near his family's trailer home, the crowd gasped. Many started sobbing. People who had just met Saturday clutched each other, their hand trembling and mouths quivering.

"To know he's still down there..." Brenda Heisler, 62, said, wiping away tears.

Though they had never met Luis Martinez, the news devastated the crowd that gathered on the corner of State Road 60 and Mulrennan Road.

"He was just a baby," said Heisler, of Seffner. "We had our chance to live. He didn't."

Luis was located at about 2 p.m. after someone who lives in the area called authorities and suggested that they check the septic tank, Gee said. The tank is located a short distance from a neighbor's home where Luis was last seen asking for ice cream Friday afternoon.

The mobile home is located in the 4100 block of Silver Lane, off Mulrennan Road. The boy's parents, Juan Martinez, 30, and Rosalina Ramirez, 20, declined to speak with reporters Saturday afternoon.

"By all indications, it looks like the child fell into the septic tank," Gee said.

The tank has an 11-inch hole in its concrete lid that had been open for some time, Gee said. Authorities searched the area where Luis was found earlier Saturday and saw a small hole, but it was unclear that it led to a septic tank. The hole had been covered by overgrown grass that may have been there for months, Gee said.

After the tip, authorities called a septic service company, which started emptying the sewage-filled tank. That's when they found the boy.

After hearing the news, volunteer searcher Clarice Frye, 51, started sobbing. She had searched for Luis on Friday night and Saturday.

"I don't regret coming out," said Frye, a retired teacher. "What I do regret is that we didn't find him last night."

The Sheriff's Office has not released a time of death yet because the Medical Examiner's Office is still investigating.

Earlier Saturday, about 400 volunteers and deputies fanned out to continue the search for Luis.

By late Saturday morning, the search area had grown to a 1.5-mile radius around the boy's mobile home park, sheriff's Col. Greg Brown said. Volunteer searchers were being turned away from the site because there were no more deputies to guide them.

The search Saturday was methodical. Deputies carried detailed maps to mark their progress, but the search parties were sometimes hindered by fences and retention ponds. Groups scoured areas along State Road 60 and areas off Mulrennan Road as well as the Strawberry Ridge Mobile Home Park.

Civilian volunteers were kept away from the area closest to the family's mobile home as a routine precaution because it was considered a potential crime scene. The septic tank was in that area.

A dive team was en route because there are number of ponds and retention basins. Mounted deputies and K-9 units also searched nearby.

Pete Feuerlein was walking his dog early Saturday morning when he saw a neighbor leaving. The neighbor remarked that he was going to search for the little boy, and Feuerlein didn't hesitate to join.

By mid-morning Saturday, he was with a group of about 20 searchers being led by Deputy Ray Sheppard. His eyes scanned the thicket along Mulrennan Road as he walked toward a retention pond.

"A 2-year-old would fit into about anything," said Feuerlein, who is retired from the Navy and has an 8-year-old grandson.

Deputies interviewed the boy's parents Friday. Brown could not say if Luis was being supervised by an adult when he disappeared.

He said the boy was known to wander the neighborhood.

Luis has a 2-month-old sister and often plays in a grassy area in front of the mobile home, his uncle, José Manuel Martinez, said Saturday. The family's home sits amid a cluster of a dozen mobile and manufactured homes along Silver Lane.

Information from Bay News 9 was used in this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at or (813) 661-2443.

News that missing boy was found dead devastates volunteers 11/27/09 [Last modified: Saturday, November 28, 2009 5:17pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Comedian and activist Dick Gregory dies at 84


    The comedian Dick Gregory rose to national prominence in the early 1960s as a black satirist whose audacious style of humor was biting, subversive and topical, mostly centered on current events, politics and above all, racial tensions. His trademark was the searing punchline.

    Dick Gregory, a comedian, activist and author, died Saturday. [Tribune News Service, 2011]
  2. Winter Haven police investigating armed robbery at Dollar General


    WINTER HAVEN — Police are investigating an armed robbery Friday night of a Dollar General store on W Lake Ruby Drive.

  3. Rowdies settle for draw at home


    ST. PETERSBURG — The good news for the Rowdies is that they still haven't lost a game at Al Lang Stadium since late April. The bad news is they had to settle for a 1-1 tie against Ottawa on Saturday night in front of 6,710 sweaty fans.

  4. Bats come to life, but Rays' freefall continues (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG —The six runs seemed like a ton, just the second time the Rays had scored that many in a game during their numbing two-plus-weeks stretch of offensive impotency, and amazingly, the first time at the Trop in nearly two months.

    Lucas Duda connects for a two-run home run in the sixth, getting the Rays within 7-5. A Logan Morrison home run in the ninth made it 7-6, but Tampa Bay couldn’t complete the comeback.
  5. 'Free speech rally' cut short after massive counterprotest


    BOSTON — Thousands of demonstrators chanting anti-Nazi slogans converged Saturday on downtown Boston in a boisterous repudiation of white nationalism, dwarfing a small group of conservatives who cut short their planned "free speech rally" a week after a gathering of hate groups led to bloodshed in Virginia.

    Thousands of people march against a “free speech rally” planned Saturday in Boston. About 40,000 people were in attendance.