Two young brothers who disappeared while playing outside their home on the Red Lake Indian Reservation have been found encased in the ice of nearby First Thunders Lake, four months after the search for them began.
"Our worst fears were confirmed," FBI Special Agent Ralph Boelter said, announcing that the two tiny bodies had been found about a half-mile from their home.
Police dogs picked up the scent of Tristan Anthony White, 4, and Avery Lee Stately, 2, on Sunday, the first day of organized searching after the weather warmed, Boelter said.
"So many people were hoping for the safe return of these boys back home," Red Lake Tribal Chairman Floyd Jourdain Jr. said in a statement late Sunday. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the family in the wake of this disappointing news, and their heartbreaking loss."
The two boys, both American Indian, disappeared Nov. 22 from their home in a remote area near the Canadian border. Authorities have not determined whether they somehow wandered out onto the lake's thin ice and fell in or if foul play was involved in their deaths.
The boys' bodies were transported to St. Paul on Monday, where they were to undergo autopsies by the Ramsey County Coroner, according to FBI spokesman Paul McCabe. He said autopsy results wouldn't be available until Tuesday at the earliest.
Boelter said there was a beaver dam on the lake near where the bodies were found, that would have had open water around it at the time the boys went missing. He said it was possible the boys walked out onto the partially frozen lake after being attracted by the sight of the animals.
Divers searched First Thunders Lake shortly after the two were reported missing, and hundreds of volunteers and law enforcement officers scoured the area, but they found no sign of the boys.
The initial ground search was called off after five days. Boelter said search teams resumed their work on Sunday with the warmer weather.
One theory is that the boys wandered away to the southern edge of the lake, then walked across the partially frozen water before falling through the ice, Boelter said.
The boys' mother, Alicia White, and Avery's father, Jeff Stately, had feared the children were abducted.
"I'm grateful that we found the bodies," Boelter said. "Obviously it's very tragic for the families involved as well as the Red Lake Community."
The reservation had faced another tragedy less than two years before the boys' disappearance. On March 21, 2005, 16-year-old Jeff Weise killed his grandfather and the grandfather's girlfriend on the reservation, then went to the high school and killed seven more people, including a teacher and a security guard, before killing himself.
By Patrick Condon, Associated Press Writer
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)