MENIFEE, Calif. – Terry Dewayne Smith Sr. had been expecting his 11-year-old son to fly home this summer to live with him in West Virginia after two years with his mom in Southern California.
On Thursday, the bereaved father talked about flying Terry Dewayne Smith Jr.'s ashes back to West Virginia instead.
The boy was reported missing Sunday, prompting a massive search. On Wednesday, authorities announced they had found a body matching Terry Jr.'s description in a shallow grave under a tree behind his mother's house.
The boy's 16-year-old half brother was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of murder and could be charged as early as Friday, a person familiar with the investigation told The Associated Press. The person requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly about the ongoing investigation.
The suspect's name has not been released. He has the same mother as the victim, but a different father.
"All I want to do is get Terry Jr. back here because that was the last thing he told me on the phone," said Smith Sr., a 62-year-old retired truck driver. "He wanted to come home."
Initial reports from the mother, relayed by law enforcement, described Terry Jr. as an autistic boy who took special medication and answered only to his nickname, "JuJu." His father, however, insisted that his son was not autistic.
The boy lived with him until 2011, when he went to live with his mother, and was a normal kid who loved video games and baseball, he said.
"He was a very bright, well-adjusted child, at least he was when he left here," said Smith Sr. "He pushed buttons and would aggravate you. But, other than that, it was just the typical way ... of a typical boy trying to get his way."
Smith Sr. also helped raise the half brother accused in the case, he said. The teen moved from West Virginia to California after his mother abruptly pulled him out of school, he said.
"I taught him how to walk. I helped him when he was on the baseball team here," he said, recalling that he called the half brother "little Spider-Man."
A phone listing for the boy's mother, Shawna Smith, was disconnected. Messages left at a second number associated with her address were not returned.
Investigators told Smith Sr. that Terry Jr. died after a hit to the head but declined to say more, citing a request from police who are still working the case.
Hundreds of volunteers searched for Terry Jr. for more than three days in abandoned trailers and campsites tucked into the scrubby hillsides of rural Riverside County, where horse ranches dot the landscape and large stretches of land remain undeveloped. Sheriff's deputies fanned out on horseback and with bloodhounds in the triple-digit heat and helicopters buzzed overhead, searching for clues.
A detective involved in the search gave credit for the discovery of the body to a volunteer woman who said she had a vision of where to find Terry.
Detective John Powers told KFI-AM radio on Thursday that Ragland and her children came to the property where investigators, including him, had searched thoroughly already and found they body immediately.
"She actually went right up the driveway of the house, on to the property, and right up to the body of this boy," Powers said. "Not in 23 years have I ever seen anything like this."
Messina reported from Charleston, W.Va. AP Researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York contributed to this report.
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