FITCHBURG—The father of missing 5-year-old Jeremiah Oliver vowed he will “never give up” looking for his son, as dozens of volunteers combed through a Fitchburg neighborhood today in an attempt to find the missing boy.
Jeremiah was last seen by relatives in September. His mother, 28-year-old Elsa Oliver, and her boyfriend, 23-year-old Alberto L. Sierra Jr., are being held on child abuse charges.
Oliver was only discovered missing Dec. 2, when his 7-year-old sister told staff at her school that Sierra was abusing her. Several workers in the state Department of Children and Families have been disciplined for failing to keep tabs on the children.
Today’s search, organized through social media by family members and supporters, was not sanctioned by police, although several Fitchburg Police Department officers were standing by to examine any potential evidence that volunteers might find. Police had initially discouraged the search, afraid that a hoard of well-intentioned but inexperienced searchers could disturb, obscure, or even destroy valuable evidence.
In a parking lot across from the house where the family lived, the boy’s father, Jose Oliver, said he was holding out hope Jeremiah would be found.
“They didn’t have a car, so if they did do something to him, I’m pretty sure he’ll be around here,” Jose Oliver said, wearing a shirt bearing his son’s face, with “DADDY” printed on the back. “I hope that we can find something. I just want to find my son.”
Jose Oliver expressed gratitude to the approximately 70 volunteers who turned out to search, many of whom did not know the family.
“There’s people out here that have heart,” he said, trembling with emotion.
A judge this week ordered Elsa Oliver to undergo a mental evaluation. But Jose Oliver said he doubted his wife was incompetent.
“I’ve been married with Elsa for eight years. She wasn’t like that with my kids when she lived with me,” he said. “She always made sure they went to school, she always made sure they got fed, she always brought them to the doctor’s appointment, she was always playing with them, telling them I love you, kissing them, and so on. So I don’t believe that she’s not sane, unless she has something to do with it.”
Jose Oliver condemned Sierra for not cooperating with police.
“I would say to him, you have a son,” Oliver said. “How can you have the heart to just sit there and stay silent?”
Volunteers prayed for the little boy, then dispersed into nearby woods and neighborhoods to search, poking at the melting snowpack with fallen branches. One group searched a culvert in the hill behind the family’s home, calling for a flashlight. They found nothing, and Jeremiah’s uncle, Sandrino Oliver, emerged from the dark tunnel wailing and screaming in despair. Another search party made its way along nearby railroad tracks, pulling aside thick brush and digging into piles of earth and leaves.
After several hours, no clues had emerged.
“We looked everywhere, but, nothing,” said a despondent Jose Oliver.
Some volunteers decried what they called a lack of effort by authorities.
One family held posters protesting the State Police for not bringing search dogs to aid the volunteers. And some among a group of sign-holding supporters along the road jeered when a State Police cruiser passed, with one man throwing a snowball at the car.
State Police spokesman David Procopio declined to comment on specifics of the investigation, but said efforts by troopers to find the boy are ongoing.
“It’s being worked. It’s being investigated around the clock by State Police attached to the Worcester District Attorney’s office,” he said. “It’s active, it’s dynamic, and there is progress being made.”
Procopio confirmed that a State Police K-9 unit had searched the area near Oliver’s house this morning and said the State Police were supportive of the civilian search effort.
“We have absolutely no problem or issue with that at all. We completely understand their desire and willingness to search,” Procopio said. “We welcome their help, and we coordinate with them as much as possible to ensure they follow proper protocol.”
Most vehicles passing the searchers honked in support. Some stopped to leave stuffed animals, candles, and flowers at a makeshift memorial in a snowbank.
After several hours of fruitless searching, the family reconvened to strategize and compare notes on where they had searched.
Sandrino Oliver, Jeremiah’s uncle, stood nearby listening. Hands in his pockets, he turned to gaze at the sky as if looking for answers, but finding none, sighed and looked downward, tears rolling from his eyes.