Special Reports

Body in canal: Is it missing 8-year-old Boise boy Robert Manwill?

Authorities pulled the body of a young boy out of the New York Canal in Ada County southwest of Boise on Monday afternoon. Police called off a planned afternoon update on the 10-day-old investigation of the disappearance of Robert Manwill as detectives converged on this rural spot.
Authorities pulled the body of a young boy out of the New York Canal in Ada County southwest of Boise on Monday afternoon. Police called off a planned afternoon update on the 10-day-old investigation of the disappearance of Robert Manwill as detectives converged on this rural spot. Joe Jaszewski / Idaho Statesman

Melissa Jenkins left the Boise police headquarters in tears Monday afternoon, and later police officials confirmed why.

A dead boy found in an irrigation canal between Boise and Kuna Monday could be her missing 8-year-old son, Robert Manwill.

Boise Deputy Police Chief Jim Kerns said Monday that they could not positively identify the boy until after an autopsy Tuesday by the Ada County coroner's office.

Neither the Boise Police Department nor Ada County Sheriff's Office has any other active cases of missing persons matching the description of the boy found Monday, officials said.

Boise police were about to start a 2 p.m. news conference about the Manwill case Monday when they suddenly canceled - about a half-hour after two people saw the body of what appeared to be a young boy floating in the New York Canal near Cloverdale Road in southern Ada County.

The first Ada County deputy who arrived jumped into the water and pulled the boy to the side of the canal, Kerns said. A short time later, Boise police detectives and coroner's officials showed up and removed the body.

About three hours later, Robert's mother, Melissa Sue Jenkins, appeared to be crying as she left the Boise police station, physically supported by two other family members. Other family members left the station in groups, escorted to their cars by a police officer. Police said the family did not want to comment and asked for privacy.

In contrast with previous news conferences, Robert's family did not attend Monday's somber announcement. Kerns stood next to FBI agent Jon Morton as he delivered grim news.

"A missing child is every family's nightmare, and a heartache for the entire community. All of us, including the investigators on this case, have said to ourselves, 'What if Robert were my child?' " Kerns said. "Our hearts go out to Robert's family tonight as they wait in private for a positive ID from the coroner."

The canal is the same one that crosses Vista Avenue less than a half-mile from the apartment where Robert was reportedly last seen.

A New York Canal company worker said it would be possible for a body to travel from where the canal passes Vista Avenue to where a body was found Monday.

In the past couple of decades, bodies have floated for as long as at least two weeks and as far as at least 14 miles.

But the spot where this body was found also is about 2 miles southeast of the Ada County home near Five Mile Road where police searched a backyard over the weekend.

The man who lives there, Evan Wallis, says he knows Melissa Jenkins and her boyfriend, Daniel Ehrlick Jr., but has no idea what happened to Robert, who was reported missing from his mother's apartment July 24, shortly after 10 p.m.

Wallis told the Idaho Statesman Friday police were digging up his backyard after bloodhounds picked up a scent at his house. He said his Chevy Suburban had been stolen the Wednesday before Robert disappeared and that he found it the Monday after.

Boise police have not disclosed what evidence they removed from his home, or from Jenkins and Ehrlick's apartment off Vista Avenue, which was searched at least twice last week.

After the searches, police announced they had found undisclosed evidence indicating that Robert could be injured or the "victim of a tragic event." They still have not identified any suspects or people of interest in the case.

Patrick Orr: 373-6619

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