The body of Chase Martens, a two-year-old boy who went missing from his rural Manitoba home earlier this week, was found in a nearby creek on Saturday afternoon, RCMP confirm.
The toddler had gone missing from his family's farm home near Austin, Man., about 120 kilometres west of Winnipeg, on Tuesday evening.
His body was located by a group of Winnipeg search-and-rescue volunteers in a creek about half a kilometre south of the home at around 1 p.m. CT Saturday, said RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Bert Paquet.
"Earlier today a family, a community and a province's worst nightmare became a reality," Paquet told reporters later in the afternoon.
"This appears to be exactly what we all thought it was: a tragedy."
Paquet said it appears that Martens wandered off and somehow ended up in the creek. Martens's parents have previously said it was not like Chase to wander away from home without the family dog with him.
Thousands of volunteers joined with RCMP and search-and-rescue crews over the past few days in combing a four-kilometre radius from the location where Martens was last seen.
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Paquet said the creek was identified as a "high-probability area" and was searched several times throughout the week as water levels and other conditions changed.
An autopsy is expected to take place on Sunday. Paquet said no obvious signs of foul play have been identified at this time.
The search has ended for Chase MARTENS. #rcmpmb can confirm that his body was found earlier today.— @rcmpmb
More than 500 volunteers joined the search for Martens on Friday alone, scouring farm fields and wooded areas all day. Police estimated a similar number of searchers on Saturday.
"I would estimate that about 30,000 volunteer hours were donated this week, the majority of them by people that are total strangers to the Martens family," Paquet said.
"The true, genuine care and concern of Manitobans is something that should be recognized and commended. I know a family [and] a community thank you for the size of your collective heart."
Among those who came to help were Brandon and Sharon Jarnouin and their children. The family, who used to live about three kilometres from the search area, said they learned on Facebook that Martens's body had been found.
"We're relieved but yet upset that it ended the way it was — you know, because they say 'the body,' so it kind of sounds like [he was] found deceased," Brandon Jarnouin said.
"I got three young ones of my own, so [I'm] kind of choked."
Another volunteer, Mandi Kostiuk, said she felt compelled to help.
"My grandchild just turned two, and when somebody's out and they call for help, we come," she said. "This is what we're supposed to do for our people, for everybody."
Drones, underwater teams deployed
RCMP had used surveillance drones to map out the search area and look for clues since Thursday. Dive teams searched in streams, ditches and ponds on Thursday and were back in the area Saturday.
Temperatures fell below 0 C each night since Martens went missing.
His parents, Thomas Martens and Destiny Turner, issued an emotional public plea on Thursday for any information that could help bring their son home.
On Saturday, Paquet said investigators spoke with Martens's family and they had "mixed feelings, obviously — an answer, yes, but probably the answer they did not want to get."
"We always hope," he added, "but we knew the challenges after the first few nights and we knew, obviously, the possible outcome of this operation.
"Again, an answer provided to the family thanks to the effort of thousands of people, but definitely not an answer anybody wanted to see."