How Polk County, Wis. plans to avoid another toddler tragedy - KMSP-TV

How Polk County, Wis. plans to avoid another toddler tragedy

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CENTURIA, Wis. (KMSP) -

It's been a year since a 2-year-old went missing in Wisconsin, and tomorrow will mark a year since he was found dead inside of the trunk of a car his father had been working on just feet from the family home.

Investigators determined Isaiah Theis's death was an accident, that he somehow locked himself inside. The car's keys were found with the boy, and the discovery shocked and dismayed a community that spent 26 hours searching for the lost tot.

MORE: No charges after missing Wis. toddler found in trunk

Yet, even though no charges will be filed in the case, a big question remains: How could a toddler manage to lock himself in a trunk, and why did not one open it to look for him?

"I seen those two playing all the time," Jennifer Larson told Fox 9 News. "They were always around those cars every day, so it wasn't too much of a surprise, but it was still horribly sad.

Many in the tiny town of Centuria, Wis., are still mourning the loss. The 2-year-old Theis disappeared while playing with his 7-year-old brother, sending hundreds of volunteers to search the woods and fields in a square mile radius nearby in the sweltering summer heat. Sadly, the boy was just feet away in the trunk of a car where volunteers rested their water bottles, just a few strides away from the search command center.

"It's not that the car was missed," Polk County Sheriff Pete Johnson said. "It's that we didn't go in the trunk because, at the time, the info we had is that it wouldn't have been possible for him to be in there. We based the search on that information, and that turned out to be wrong."

Now, Johnson is working on a policy that will lay out step-by-step procedures if there is ever another search for a missing child. He's modeling his action plan based on how the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children operates, and he has also received funding to implement Project Lifesaver in Polk County. That program will use GPS bracelets to track vulnerable adults.

Johnson also hopes to form a county-wide search and rescue team that would be specifically trained to handle cases like the Theis disappearance. For some in town, the moves seem like steps in the right direction. Yet, whether a person thinks the moves are proactive or still not enough, it's clear that no one wants to see another toddler's life come to a tragic end again.

In hindsight, Johnson admits he wishes he would not have asked the public for help until later in the search because organizing those teams diverted attention away from the investigation into what happened. Unfortunately, time does not go in reverse and the past cannot be changed. That is why he is looking to the future, and he hopes to unveil his missing children policy in the next 6 months.

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