THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

US Navy asked to help identify boy in Maine

Maine State Police released a photo yesterday of the distinctive sneakers worn by the dead boy found Saturday. Maine State Police released a photo yesterday of the distinctive sneakers worn by the dead boy found Saturday. (Maine State Police via Associated Press)
By Brian MacQuarrie
Globe Staff / May 18, 2011

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ALFRED, Maine — The US military has been asked to join the investigation into the identity of a young boy whose body was found Saturday off a secluded dirt road in South Berwick, State Police said yesterday.

A witness reported that a blue Toyota Tacoma pickup truck seen on the road before the boy’s body was discovered had “some type of naval insignia’’ embossed on or near the license plate, State Police Lieutenant Brian McDonough said.

As a result, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service has been asked to help, said McDonough, and police plan to approach Naval Reserve centers, as well as military installations in the area, including the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard about 15 miles south in Kittery.

“It’s more intuition than anything, but we’re really starting to wonder if the indi vidual involved with this truck is a member of the military,’’ said McDonough, who is State Police chief of the southern Maine criminal division.

A witness who had a fleeting glance at the truck and the license plate believed that the driver was a woman, said McDonough. The pickup was spotted on the dirt road in South Berwick about 7:30 a.m. Saturday, roughly nine hours before the boy’s body was discovered nearby and about two hours after the child is believed to have died.

McDonough said the license plate insignia and the frustrating lack of response to public appeals for information led investigators to wonder whether the driver and any other unseen occupant of the truck are from out of state.

“Maybe these people are from away, assigned on temporary duty into the military, and aren’t that well known or embedded into the community,’’ he said.

The boy, found covered by a green, military-style blanket near the base of a tree, was 3 feet, 8 inches tall, and had blue eyes and dark blond hair. He was dressed in a green camouflage hooded sweatshirt with a Faded Glory label, tan pants, and black Lightning McQueen sneakers. The blanket and the camouflage sweatshirt are also possible indicators of a military connection.

Meanwhile, investigators continued to sift through more than 200 tips that have arrived from throughout the country, said McDonough, in a death that officially remains suspicious and not a homicide. Police, however, have not ruled out murder as a cause of death, he said.

Investigators have sifted through about half of the leads, McDonough said, as they assess and prioritize the information. DNA samples will be used to try to identity the boy, and police will also request whether this evidence can legally be matched against a national database in an effort to find family members.

“We’ve got plenty to do,’’ McDonough said. The bulk of the tips have arrived from southern Maine, but others have been fielded from Florida, Alabama, California, Michigan, and Wisconsin, he said.

Despite around-the-clock work by 17 State Police detectives from Maine and New Hampshire, authorities said they still did not know the boy’s name, who his parents are, or why his body was abandoned.

“There really is no explanation for this,’’ McDonough said. “How nobody could report this child missing — to me it’s unthinkable. It’s frustrating from an investigator’s point of view. I had hoped it would happen long before this.’’

Police have yet to release the findings of an autopsy conducted Sunday. Authorities want to identify the boy before disclosing that information, said State Police spokesman Steve McCausland.

Tire and foot impressions have also been collected from the site. In an effort to generate more leads, State Police released a photo yesterday afternoon of the boy’s distinctive sneakers, which police said seemed “virtually brand new.’’

“Hopefully, the sneakers will spark somebody’s memory,’’ McDonough said.

In addition, about a dozen surveillance videos are being reviewed by police from stores and highways in the area.

McDonough said the boy, estimated to be between 4 and 6 years old, “appeared to be well cared for.’’ The child “was clean,’’ McDonough said. “I don’t think he was malnourished.’’

State Police have contacted authorities in Canada, as well as Interpol and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

A Facebook page has been set up to collect information, tips, and reflections about the case. The page is titled, “Help give this boy a name, where he came from, and who took his life.’’

The page also asks: “Please remember this was an innocent child, a helpless little boy. Have a heart and send this to all your friends on your Facebook.’’

MacQuarrie can be reached at macquarrie@globe.com.