Beaver County child's remains discovered in septic tank; father held
A desperate two-day search by neighbors, police and the FBI for a little boy with a heart condition ended abruptly Saturday when the boy's body was found in a septic tank near his rural Beaver County home.
John Smitsky Jr. of Greene, the father of 4-year-old Wyatt Thomas Smitsky, was taken into custody shortly after his son's body was found, police said.
"It is a homicide investigation. We believe he (Wyatt) could not have gotten into that septic tank by himself. The cover is too big for a 4-year-old boy," said Lt. Thomas Dubovi of the Pennsylvania State Police.
Trooper Robert Lagoon said homicide charges are anticipated after an autopsy of Wyatt's body is completed and the Beaver County coroner rules on the cause and manner of his death.
"It's a sad situation. We don't know all of the facts yet," Lagoon said.
Wyatt was reported as having wandered away from home about 6:30 p.m. Friday, triggering a large-scale search. The child had a congenital heart defect that required medication. He was wearing a T-shirt, shorts and his Spider-Man flip-flops, and he had been playing with his sisters — Tally, 6, and Paige, 3.
As early as Friday night, Dubovi said, police detected inconsistencies John Smitsky's account.
"There was information that was not matching. There was some suspicion that something was wrong here," Dubovi said.
State police obtained a search warrant yesterday morning in which John Smitsky was named as a suspect, Dubovi said.
The boy's body was discovered about 12:30 p.m. by either a firefighter or a hazardous materials worker, Dubovi said. The septic tank, which is less than 50 feet from the boy's home, was "the next logical place to look," he said. The tank was drained, and Wyatt's body was found.
John Smitsky, who told police that he is 28, was taken into custody shortly afterward, police said.
The disappearance of the blue-eyed, blond-haired boy mobilized nearly 500 residents of the tight-knit, rural community. The child's heart defect had put him through three surgeries.
Search teams, dogs and helicopters looked for Wyatt until about 3:30 yesterday morning and resumed the search at 10 a.m. The FBI assisted because of the boy's age.
Jeremy Cox, 19, of Greene went out Friday night on his ATV.
"We were looking everywhere. It didn't matter that it was dark. I know all those trails. The whole town came together," Cox said. "It's just a shame, I mean what can you say?"
The Hookstown Free Methodist Church on Main Street in Hookstown served as a gathering point for searchers.
Cheryl Olszewski, wife of the pastor there, said the boy attended Sunday school at the church and that the youngster's heart condition never really slowed him down.
"He was always an energetic boy like any 4-year-old would be," she said. "You would never have known about his medical condition by looking at him."
The boy attended church with his grandmother, Cindy Beck, Olszewski said.
Amanda Rittle of Greene, who knew Wyatt and helped search for him, said, "He is a nice boy. He liked hanging out in the yard and playing like any kid that age."
Greene is in Beaver County's southwest corner. Many residents work at nearby power plants or at US Airways facilities at Pittsburgh International Airport. Olszewski, who has lived in the community for 14 years, can't remember a similar incident.
"There's just been nothing like this before," she said.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
- Penguins notebook: Winning home games crucial for Penguins
- Heart stent implanted, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg goes home
- Icy roads, bridges trigger minor accidents in Western Pennsylvania
- Penguins GM prepares for emotional series against Carolina
- Police identify driver in North Side crash that killed pregnant woman
- Nonprofit plans to keep Blairsville WyoTech campus open as part of $24 million purchase
- Pryor’s 22 points lead Robert Morris past Louisiana-Monroe
- Pipeline project could bring thousands of construction jobs to Burrell Township
- Lack of money may crush ISIS
- Four of five Blairsville-Saltsburg schools improve state performance scores
- Steelers notebook: Roethlisberger says Saints game is ‘must win’