Hernando deputies search for boy, 2, missing from Brooksville home

Officials said Thursday evening that the ground search had ended for the night, but the Hillsborough aviation unit would search for a few more hours.
Hernando County deputies are searching for this missing 2-year-old boy.
Hernando County deputies are searching for this missing 2-year-old boy. [ Hernando County Sheriff's Office ]
Published Feb. 23|Updated Feb. 24

A 2-year-old boy has gone missing in Hernando County, and after hours of searching Thursday, authorities say his whereabouts still are unknown.

Related: FRIDAY UPDATE: Hernando toddler found alive after being missing for nearly 24 hours

The Hernando County Sheriff’s Office said Joshua “JJ” Rowland is believed to have left a home in the area of Cheever Road and Yontz Road while his parent was asleep. The home is located in northern Brooksville in an area deputies described as rural.

JJ was last seen wearing a gray Batman shirt and dark gray pajama pants with tools on them. He has curly blond hair and law enforcement said he “may have a swollen lip.”

“As of right now we have no indication that he was abducted or he wandered off,” Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis said in a 5 p.m. press conference. “We just don’t know what happened.”

Nienhuis said deputies spoke to neighbors and checked inside nearby homes multiple times throughout the day. One person, Nienhuis said, said they saw Rowland in their front yard around 10:40 a.m. playing with their dogs. Deputies believe Rowland went missing shortly after that time.

More than 50 Hernando County deputies searched for Rowland Thursday, as did officers from multiple agencies. The Pasco Sheriff’s Office sent a team with a bloodhound to help and the Citrus County dive team is on the scene looking at bodies of water near the house.

The dive team had not found anything by 5 p.m., but Nienhuis said more dive teams will arrive tomorrow if Rowland is not found beforehand.

In an updated news release sent at 8:37 p.m., Hernando officials said the ground search had ended for the night and would resume Friday morning. However, they said, the aviation unit from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office would continue its search of the area for a few more hours.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement put out a statewide missing child alert just after 6 p.m.

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The Hernando County sheriff said deputies are checking every lead — including a “psychic” who called from another state and provided a specific address where Rowland might be. Deputies went to the address. Rowland was not there.

Nienhuis said detectives do not believe any of Rowland’s family members have “anything to hide,” but no one has been ruled out as a possible suspect at this point.

“Every hour that goes by, another five hours so far, it certainly doesn’t make us more hopeful,” Nienhuis said. “If anything, it’s less hopeful.”

Neinhuis asked anyone within a two-mile area of the area where JJ went missing to check their property for any signs of Rowland. But he said it’s possible the boy got farther away than deputies may have first thought.

Anyone with information is asked to call 911 or the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office at 352-754-6850.