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that little boy’

By MIKE SANDROLINI
   
WESTCHESTER | The Westchester man who last week found the body in the Des
Plaines River believed to be that of 1-year-old Bryeon Hunter—allegedly beaten to
death by his mother and boyfriend, then dumped into the river—insists he’s no hero.

“I was one guy out there doing what I think anyone else would do if my son was in that
predicament,” Robert Larson said in an exclusive interview with the West Suburban
Journal this week. “It’s about that little boy. That’s all it was: about that little boy.”

Larson, a K-9 dog training specialist, credits volunteers who showed up when they
could to search along the river; his two dogs—Captain Dexter, a yellow labrador, and
Sergeant Duke, a German shepherd— and a woman from Des Plaines, Kathy Borre,
who originally donated him a canoe so he could search in the river for the body.

“I’ve got to hand it to them,” Larson said. “The volunteers were mostly women, but we
had everyone from housewives to truck drivers, correctional officers and investigators.
We would go out there relentlessly. For hours, these people would be out there
whenever they could.  “At one point, we had 50 volunteers searching the riverbanks on
foot,” he added. “The amount of volunteers varied. On weekends, that’s when we got
more volunteers out.”

Larson said he can’t remember everyone’s name who volunteered, but he said, “They
worked their (butts) off. There’s nothing that the volunteers wouldn’t do. They were
trudging through the water, through the mud, through sticks, climbing through bushes
and trees.”

STARTING OUT

Larson, who got both of his dogs from a shelter, said Captain Dexter and Sergeant
Duke have been trained as cadaver dogs.  “I work with my dogs four to five hours per
day,” he said.  Larson said after getting involved in the search, he became frustrated
with what he called “a lack of efforts with everybody” regarding the search process.

“Everybody was against me going out there,” Larson said. “Fellow (dog) trainers told
me not to do this, to wait for law enforcement. ‘You’ll never get hired again; you’ll never
get called for another search.’ I went against protocol, and I don’t care. Why do I have
to sit there and wait? (He was told) ‘Leave it to the professional; we’ve got this
handled’. If I had left it to law enforcement, nothing would have been found.”

Even though water in the Des Plaines River was at record high levels due to the
flooding that took place the week of Bryeon’s disappearance, Larson questioned why
police and search and rescue professionals wanted to hold off searching until the
water level had gone down.

“The water’s too high for them to search?” he said. “They have the equipment,
manpower and resources to get that job done. If I was able to find that boy by myself
with a kayak, why couldn’t the police do it?”

THE SEARCH

Larson searched the along the Des Plaines River just about every day for a three-
week period starting April 17. He said he started his searches each day from the
McDonald’s parking lot at 1st Avenue and Lake Street in Maywood—located near the
river—and then proceed to the river, near the spot where the boy’s body had reportedly
been dumped into it.

When he first started, Larson searched the shorelines on foot, using Captain Dexter
almost exclusively. He estimated the searches lasted between 10 and 12 hours each
day, knee-deep in mud along the shoreline.

“That was harder than going through basic training in the Army,” he said.  Larson said
he had to contend with “piles and piles of debris—sticks, logs, uprooted trees” due to
the flooding. He also saw a lot of dead wild life—deer floating down the river,
raccoons and opossums.  Larson said he relied all along on, and trusted in, Captain
Dexter because the dog was picking up the scent of a cadaver. He concluded the boy’
s body was further down the river.

“If that body just touches a tree, the dog would alert me to that tree or branch,” he said.
“He (Captain Dexter) kept alerting me that the body was traveling down the river. He
reassured me that body was traveling down the river.  “When we first started this
case, I told police and every volunteer (that) I had a pretty good idea where we would
find that boy through studying the area, watching the river, the levels, and it all pointed
to these piles of sticks, logs and trees.”

These sticks, logs and trees, he said, piled up against standing trees along the
shoreline due to the flooding and rushing water.   “The piles were endless,” Larson
said. “Each standing tree had a pile on it; every 10 feet there was a pile (along the
shoreline). I had a good feeling he (the body of Bryeon Hunter) was caught in one of
those piles.”

Larson said he made sure to check and re-check each pile regularly as the search
proceeded downstream, which prolonged the search.

GETTING A CANOE,
THEN A KAYAK

Not long into the search, Larson told volunteers he needed a canoe to help him with
the search efforts. Borre donated the canoe to him on Saturday, April 27, and another
woman volunteer drove over to a local Sports Authority to purchase paddles.   “My
resources were completely exhausted,” he said, explaining why he didn’t purchase
the canoe himself.

Unfortunately, as he searched the river while accompanied by his son on April 28
(which happened to be his son’s birthday), the canoe capsized. He and his son were
eventually able to get to shore. He recovered the canoe, but lost most of his search
equipment in the river.

Larson said he then decided to sell the canoe on Craigslist and use the money to
purchase a kayak instead. He received $500 for the canoe, and bought the new Kayak
at a Dick’s Sporting Goods in Lombard for $499.98.  “Thank God Kathy Borre donated
the canoe,” he said. “If it wasn’t for her donation, I never would have found Bryeon.”

FINDING THE BODY

On May 14, Larson decided to leave his dogs at home because the river water was
moving too fast that day. He put the kayak in the water around noon (again, near the
McDonald’s at 1st Avenue and Lake Street) and began a six- to seven-mile journey
downstream.  Again, he searched every pile of sticks, logs and trees that had
collected against the standing trees along the shoreline—a process that took around
four hours.

Then, at around 4:00, he made the grisly discovery of what is believed to be Bryeon’s
remains along the river’s shoreline around 1st and 31st avenues in McCormick
Woods in North Riverside.   “He was in a pile of debris in an area that can’t be
searched from the shoreline,” Larson said. “That’s why a kayak was a must.”  The
body, he said, was floating face up “maybe one foot from my kayak.”
  
“When I saw him I caught the odor (of the decomposed body) at same time, which
was overwhelming,” he said. “Enough to knock you out. I spun the kayak around and
identified what I just found. It was what I thought it was.”

Larson said he called 911 from his kayak, and then went onshore.   “As soon as I hit
the shore and notified police where I was, there were three words that stuck in my
head,” he said. “ ‘I found him; I found him; I found him.’ I couldn’t stop repeating that. I
was so relieved.”

AFTERMATH

When asked if he’s happy he found the body believed to be that of Bryeon Hunter,
Larson said, “I don’t want to use the word happy.”  “It’s the worst thing I’ve ever
encountered in my life,” he said. “(There’s) nothing that will compare to it—a baby in a
river floating for 30 days. When you look at it, it was the most horrendous, awful thing I’
ve ever seen in my life. No words to describe it.”

Larson mentioned that he has been renting a house in Westchester, but he is losing
that residence within the next 30 days. He’s asking the general public to email him at:
k9specialties007@yahoo.com , if anyone has a lead on a house or an apartment to
rent.

One of the most disappointing experiences Larson said he encountered during the
search was something posted on his Facebook page by Domingo Kaller, chief of
search and rescue for the Illinois Search and Rescue Council, which participated in
the search.

At one point, Larson said Kaller “had the guts to get on my Facebook (page) and said,
‘Robert, your efforts are helping no one. Please leave this to the professionals.’  “I
was floored.”  After Larson found the body, people went back on Larson’s Facebook
page and asked Kaller, “What do you think about him (Larson) now?”  Kaller’s
response on the page, according to Larson, was: “Anybody can get lucky once.”

“Little does Domingo know that was my first search and rescue,” Larson said.
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