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birthday

By Mike Sandrolini

MAYWOOD | Bryeon Hunter, the toddler allegedly beaten to
death in April by his mother and boyfriend—who then reportedly dumped his body into the Des Plaines River—would have
turned 2 years old on July 9.

Robert Larson, the Westchester man who ended up finding the body believed to be that of Bryeon’s along the river’s shoreline
in mid-May, wanted to make sure the boys’ birthday would be remembered.

So the night before Bryeon’s birthday, Larson decided he would, in his words, “More or less have a birthday party from me to
him.” He made a large banner that displayed a photo of the boy and read, “Happy Birthday Bryeon, We Will Miss You.”

The next day, he placed the banner and four large birthday balloons on a bridge overlooking the Des Plaines River.
Accompanied by his 7-year-old son, Daniel, Larson then went over to the parking lot of a McDonald’s Restaurant at 1st Avenue
and Lake Street in Maywood—located near the
river near the spot where the boy’s body had allegedly been dumped—and continued the birthday celebration in Bryeon’s
memory.
.
“We went out there (to the lot) with some food and grill,” said Larson, who was greeting throughout the day by well-wishers.
Larson and his son remained in the parking lot until dark.

Just before leaving, Larson let the balloons go into the air and then paid one final tribute to the boy. He brought with him a clear,
plastic ball that opens up, and placed a toy race car, a couple of pieces of candy, a small Beanie baby-like stuffed animal and
tiny lights inside the ball. Then, Larson placed the ball in the river.

“You had to see the way that thing glowed (floating) down river,” Larson said. “It was cool to say the least. I felt, ‘How do you let
this little boy’s birthday pass?’ ”

Maywood resident Lakeshia Baker, the boy’s 22-year-old mother, and her boyfriend, Michael Scott, have been charged with his
murder. They plead not guilty during an arraignment on May 23. There have been no new developments in the case. An autopsy
had been performed on the body shortly after Larson’s discovery, which was inconclusive. However, police are confident the
body is that of Bryeon Hunter.

“I thought, ‘You know what? Because his body is still in limbo with the autopsy, they still haven’t buried him,’ ” Larson said.
“That’s been very unsettling with me. When I first started out on this case, I vowed to see it through and have a proper burial (for
the boy). He hasn’t had that yet. It still lingers with me to say the least.”

Larson, a K-9 dog training specialist whose two dogs —Captain Dexter, a yellow labrador, and Sergeant Duke, a German
shepherd—were instrumental in helping him find the body believed to be that of Bryeon, said life has been difficult for him
since that day.

He said his vehicle, which has around 177,000 miles on it, is breaking down. Furthermore, he was asked to leave the
Westchester home he’s been renting on the very same day he discovered the body and is facing an eviction notice. The power
also was shut off.

He’s still living at the house, but added, “It’s just a matter of time before the sheriff comes by. He’s already been here once.
Once they serve me (the eviction notice) it’s just a matter of time before they get me out. I don’t want to cause headaches for the
guy who owns the property. I just need to move on.”

Moving on mentally, however, has been very difficult for Larson, who has met with two psychiatrists. He said he has an extreme
case of post-traumatic stress syndrome.

“I’m not getting any better,” Larson said. “Twenty minutes into story they (the psychiatrists) had to walk away from it; they were in
tears.

“Even now it’s a very emotional case for me,” he continued. “It’s hard for me to get through day. Every 20 minutes or an hour or
so, I go through these panic attacks. Try to keep in mind what I found and the condition of Bryeon … even right now, when I talk
about it, it feels like somebody’s choking me. It’s tough for me to put this in words.”

Larson said he very much appreciates that villages such as Maywood and Westchester have recognized him for his efforts in
finding the body believed to be that of Bryeon.

“They had a Fourth of July parade in Westchester honoring first responders,” he said. “I took my dogs and participated in the
parade. When I was walking down street in the parade, people would come off the curb into the middle of parade, and come up
and shake my hand, or point to me, and say, ‘You’re the man.’ ”

But he directs any kudos he receives back to Bryeon’s memory.

“I’m not doing this to be an awesome guy,” he said, pausing to collect himself. “I’m doing this because I care. It’s about that
little boy.”