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Pit bull kills 4-year-old; boy found after overnight search (video)

By BY SONNY LONG and MELISSA CROWE - SLONG@VICAD.COM, MCROWE@VICAD.COM
March 26, 2012 at 6:01 p.m.
Updated March 26, 2012 at 10:27 p.m.

Cole Johnson, foreground, the father of Kyler, helps police search for his missing son in a junkyard on Old Goliad Road. Authorities, volunteers and members of Kyler's family knocked on vehicle trunks and shouted his name for hours before the boy's body was found.

Cole Johnson's prayers went unanswered.

Kyler Johnson, his 4-year-old son who was reported missing Sunday night, was found dead Monday at the end of Village Lane, in Victoria County, after more than a 14-hour search.

Earlier that morning, Cole, a single dad, had stood hand in hand with two search volunteers heads bowed in a moment of prayer.

David Maddux, a deacon at Parkway Baptist Church, led the prayer along with fellow congregation member Kristina Elsik.

"God called me out here," Maddux said.

And God called Kyler, too.

Victoria County Sheriff T. Michael O'Connor said a resident in the 300 block of Village Lane found the boy's body in his backyard at 10:30 a.m. Monday. It appears the resident's pit bull killed the boy, he said. An autopsy is scheduled, and preliminary results are expected Tuesday.

A tearful Ken Hutchins, who described himself as Kyler's "Paw Paw," but not a blood relative, said he had been told a dog attacked the boy.

"He loved puppies and got mauled by dogs - good God! What can you do?" Hutchins said. "Obviously, it's a nightmare. Our worst fears have been realized."

The sheriff said the dog, which was kept restrained, was quarantined after the attack. Somehow the child found his way into the backyard, but the sheriff's office may never know how he got there, he said.

The man owned more than five dogs, the sheriff said, but only one is suspected in the attack. All the dogs were restrained separately. The property is surrounded by a fence on three sides, but it opens to the front yard.

O'Connor said the dog owner was emotional.

"He goes out to feed his dogs and finds this child," O'Connor said about the dog owner. "It's extremely devastating."

Neighbors said the dogs were docile. In five years of living next door, they never had a problem with the dogs, they said.

The sheriff also said the dogs appeared calm and friendly when searchers arrived to recover the boy.

A woman at the home who identified herself as the wife of the dog owner said her family wanted to extend its heartfelt condolences to the boy's family. She declined further comment.

Kyler's father reported him missing from their residence at 1152 Old Goliad Road about 8 p.m. Sunday. Before Kyler apparently wandered off, the father had been detailing his car in the front yard while the boy played nearby.

Before the discovery, three sets of search dogs had been looking for Kyler, including from the McConnell Unit state prison in Beeville, the Alamo Area Search and Rescue team from San Antonio, and the Victoria County Sheriff's Office.

O'Connor said teams had properly searched the area where Kyler was found. About 100 volunteers assisted 20 to 30 first responders. O'Connor wondered whether the child thought he was in trouble and got scared when he saw lights and heard sirens, and maybe at daybreak wandered into the backyard.

O'Connor said the child had a history of walking off unattended and had previously been found along Old Goliad Road.

"We want to save someone; we want to bring someone home, not find them the way we did," O'Connor said. "It's tough on everybody."

John Skoruppa, Kyler's great-uncle, thanked all of the searchers and neighbors for their help.

"Even though he was only 4 years old, he was the heartbeat of the family," Skoruppa said. "Kyler was a very happy, active youngster who loved adventure."

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