A 3-year-old boy lost outside for hours in frigid temperatures wearing only a diaper and winter boots has died, Toronto police said.
The boy — named Elijah Marsh — was found around 10 a.m. at 89 Baycrest Ave., about 300 metres from his home at 145 Neptune Dr. Volunteers searching the area came across the boy in the rear yard of a house.
Elijah was tucked away in a corner of the backyard, wearing a T-shirt, pull-up diaper and winter boots.
Toronto police said at 2:05 p.m. that the little boy had died.
“There’s nothing worse in this business and for all of us than to see the tragic death of a child,” police Chief Bill Blair told reporters following a police board meeting at 40 College St.
“I think every Torontonian will feel the loss. You know, you see the picture of that beautiful little boy and a very nice smile and the video of the child going out into the cold at 4 o’clock in the morning, it really is a tragic set of circumstances. And I think it will remind all of us to go home and hug our kids a little bit more and I think we all will grieve for that child and for their family and for their community for the loss,” he said.
“We will do everything we can to support that family”
Elijah’s uncle, Paul Gray, had told the Star earlier doctors are continuing to work on his nephew at North York General Hospital.
The 3-year-old’s parents were inside the emergency room through the ordeal, he said.
Gray said he found out his nephew was missing when he woke up Thursday morning.
He and his wife left the hospital arm in arm, both crying, just after midday Thursday.
Gray said it was a horrible feeling hearing Elijah had been found by police with no vital signs in the snow.
“It’s just so hard. It’s hard to explain,” he said.
Angel Young, a resident of the Neptune Dr. apartment complex where Elijah lived, said her children often played with him at the park.
“He was a happy kid” who loved to run and play on the slides, she said.
Elijah lived with his grandmother and aunts in the apartment building, Young said.
“I’ve seen his aunt taking him to daycare every morning. He was always bundled up and in a stroller, and she was always on time,” Young said. “He always looked very good cared for.”
Young said Elijah’s grandmother is at hospital with him.
Neighbour Tilli Laven saw the boy carried out to an ambulance outside the home where he was found.
“I saw them bringing out the child from the backyard . . . he was covered in a blanket,” Laven said.
Officers on horseback, on foot and in a helicopter searched for Elijah, who disappeared during a night of bitterly cold temperatures.
The search also happened online. Thousands tweeted pictures of the boy with the hashtag #FindElijah, in hopes of spreading word about his disappearance.
“My heart aches for his parents,” read one tweet.
“This is heartbreaking, please RT #FindElijah it’s so cold outside,” read another.
Police received the call reporting a missing child around 7:30 a.m. Thursday.
“The police response was aggressive and massive from the early going because, of course, a missing 3-year-old child in this sort of environment is something we treat very, very seriously,” said Insp. Frank Barredo.
Elijah was last seen on building security cameras at 4:20 a.m. Thursday walking on his own, police said.
The community rallied to help search for Elijah, coming from “far and wide,” Barredo said.
Police asked area residents to look in their backyards, driveways and under their cars. Neighbours were asked to check their building hallways and stairwells.
Because of the temperature, police believed Elijah may have crawled into a small area to protect himself from the cold.
Environment Canada had issued an extreme cold weather alert for the city of Toronto. It was -17C last night, with temperatures dropping to -20C early Thursday morning. Wind chill made it feel like -33C.
Anyone with information is asked to contact police at 416-808-3100 or Crime Stoppers anonymously at 416-222-8477.
- With files from Jennifer Pagliaro and The Canadian Press