STARKE Fla.-- As a family cleans up crime tape, they're trying to pick up the pieces of their lives, after losing their youngest. Aiden Howard, 2, was reported missing at 6:30 Wednesday evening. Neighbors tell Action News they barely knew the boy's family, but quickly pitched in to help find the toddler.
"There were probably just under 100 people looking," said neighbor, Lauren Baker, who aided in the search. I mean there were people everywhere coming to help look for this little boy."
But their search efforts quickly came to a tragic close. An hour later, police found the toddler lifeless in a septic tank. Baker says Aiden's mother was in pieces.
"When the sheriff came up to let us know the news she fell to her knees and just cried in terror," she said. "They had to pick her up and carry her to the car, it was just so heartbreaking."
Police say Aiden's death appears accidental.
"There was no indication, based on the condition of the child's body, that there was any kind of foul play involved," said Capt. Carol Starling with the Bradford County Sheriff's Office.
A preliminary medical examiner's report indicates Aiden most likely drowned, and Action News has learned the septic tank on the property may have violated an ordinance. The homeowners, who police say are close friends with the family, could be charged with negligence.
The septic tank appeared to have a hole modified in the cement cover," said Capt. Starling. "Why it was out there, our question is still unanswered but it certainly is not something that should be there."
As police continue their investigation, the community is still in shock that something so heart-wrenching could happen in their own neighborhood.
"We just put ourselves into that situation that this could have been our grandson," said neighbor, Tricia Williams.
Police say they hope parents take this tragedy as a warning sign to keep their children in their sights at all times and to childproof their homes.
The family has not yet released any details on funeral arrangements.