FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – A criminal investigation is under way after skeletal remains believed to be that of a toddler reported missing more than two weeks ago were found near a central Arizona campground, authorities said.
The remains were found at the bottom of a wash less than 2 miles from the Beaver Creek Campground, where 2-year-old Sylar Newton of Flagstaff was last seen July 24, Yavapai County sheriff's spokesman Dwight D'Evelyn said.
Authorities believe someone tried to hide the remains and they ended up in the wash after recent flash flooding.
"Somebody didn't want us to find him," sheriff's Capt. David Rhodes said.
No suspects have been named, but D'Evelyn said foul play is suspected. He released no further details. An autopsy was planned.
It's the second time this month that a 2-year-old boy has been found dead in Yavapai County, but authorities said the cases are unrelated. The body of Emmett Trapp was found in a mine pit Aug. 4, two days after he wandered away from home.
Sylar was staying at the campground near Rimrock with his custodial mother, Christina Priem, and her family when he was reported missing. Rimrock is about 40 miles south of Flagstaff.
The investigation took a grim turn last week when D'Evelyn said investigators didn't believe Sylar wandered off on his own, as Priem said, but was taken from the area and feared dead.
"It's going to take some time to sort all of this out," D'Evelyn said Tuesday.
The remains were discovered by a distant relative of Sylar who lives in the area and had periodically been searching for the boy, Rhodes said.
Searchers previously walked up and down washes, and scoured a landfill, trash bins and other areas of the campsite for more than a week. Rhodes said search and rescue crews looked in the general area where the remains were found but not the exact spot. He added the search was conducted for someone who was lost, not concealed.
"We were confident that anywhere he could have wandered or walked away from the campsite legitimately, we had covered," Rhodes said.
Authorities still are looking into custodial issues involving Sylar, Priem and Sylar's biological mother, Charity Newton.
An attempt to reach Priem by phone Tuesday night was unsuccessful. Matt Gramelspacher, a friend who answered the phone at Newton's Jasper, Ind., home, said Tuesday she was not able to answer questions and directed all queries to law enforcement.
In a phone interview last week, Newton told The Associated Press she was pregnant with Sylar when she met Priem through Priem's sister Sandra Shoemake.
Newton said she was "messed up" back then and knew she couldn't take care of her son, so she considered having Shoemake adopt him. After having a dispute with Shoemake, Newton gave temporary custody of the boy to Priem, according to Newton and a Flagstaff police report from 2008.
Newton declined to comment on the investigation, saying authorities had asked her not to.
According to a police report, authorities visited Priem's home in January to look into what was determined to be an unfounded report of child neglect regarding Sylar. At the time, Priem said Newton had given her full custody of Sylar 1½ years earlier. Priem said she hadn't heard from Newton since, the report said.
Authorities said they have found no paper trail of adoption proceedings involving Priem and Sylar.
Police reports show Newton had at least two other children — one of whom tested positive for marijuana in 2004 while a newborn. Newton's rights to another child were severed, and the child was considered a ward of the court, according to a 2004 police report. The report also noted Newton had a history of substance abuse and mental health problems.
In the case of the other toddler found dead in Yavapai County this month, authorities said 2-year-old Emmett Trapp walked 3 miles barefoot through brush and steep terrain into a mine pit, where he was found dead. He was still clad in the pajama top and diaper he was wearing when he wandered away from his home in Dewey-Humboldt two days earlier.
Myers reported from Phoenix. Associated Press Writer Michelle Price in Phoenix contributed to this report.