Special Reports

Ada County Coroner says the fact Robert Manwill was found in water makes it harder to determine his cause of death

Deputy Police Chief Jim Kerns holds a press conference with new developments: The body in the canal has tentatively been identified as Robert Manwill.
Deputy Police Chief Jim Kerns holds a press conference with new developments: The body in the canal has tentatively been identified as Robert Manwill. Katherine Jones / kjones@idahostatesman.com

Boise Deputy Police Chief Jim Kerns said local police and federal investigators remain dedicated to "finding answers" for 8-year-old Robert Manwill's family and the Treasure Valley community that has come together in the 11 days since the boy was reported missing July 24.

"Finding Robert will not be the end, but just the beginning of an entirely new investigation," he said.

In a Tuesday press conference scheduled after the Ada County Coronor "tentatively" identified a dead boy found in the New York Canal as Robert, Kerns said police were engaged in a "very active" investigation, but cautioned against speculating about what could have happened and not to jumpto any conclusions.

Police have to "focus on evidence," he said.

Kerns said Robert's family is still in close contact with police and being updated throughout the investigation.

"We ask that you continue to keep Robert, his family and the dedicated investigators in your thoughts," he said.

Earlier Tuesday, the coroner's office said that the boy found in a canal between Boise and Kuna Monday was most likely Robert.

"Positive identification will be released as soon as this office receives the dental records and the forensic odontologist can compare the findings," the office said in a release. "We are working closely with the Boise Police Department and our preliminary results are being turned over to Boise police to help further their investigation."

Coroners regularly use dental records to confirm identity of victims, said Ada County Coroner Erwin Sonnenberg.

"We feel tentatively that's him and we need to do the dental identification" Sonnenberg said. "That would be a bizarre situation...another kid the same size."

The report issued Tuesday does not indicate a cause of death, that is "pending investigation." It also says the place of death is "unknown."

"I'm sure a cause of death will be released down the road," Sonnenberg said Tuesday. "Everything has got to be put together to find out just what has happened."

Sonnenberg said water complicates his work.

"You can't assume as much as quickly," he said. "Now you have to add the fact that you have...decomposition in water which greatly complicates the case."

Robert was reported missing at 10:11 p.m. on Friday, July 24. Since then, hundreds of local and federal law enforcement officers and more than 2,000 citizen volunteers have been searching to find him.

Two people called 911 Monday after seeing the body of a small boy floating in the New York Canal — the same one that crosses Vista Avenue less than a half-mile from the apartment where Robert was reportedly last seen.

The New York Canal is 47 miles long between the diversion dam on the Boise River and Lake Lowell, according to Paul Deveau, project manager for the Boise Project Board of Control.

Deveau estimates from the Vista Avenue apartment to where Manwill's body was found as a roughly 18-mile stretch.

There are no gates or grates between those two locations to stop a body, he said. And it would take more than a week for a body to float that far, he said.

"We deal with this a lot," Devaue said. "Usually, any place from Broadway to Gowen Road...if somebody goes in that area, it's going to be one to two weeks before we see them at Cloverdale."

Deveau said the canal company opened up access roads for Boise Police to conduct a thorough search of the canal after Manwill went missing.

There are a set of "body gates" at Cloverdale Road, Deveau said, but the canal company must lower them into place. That didn't happen, because Boise police "thought he wasn't in the canal so we didn't put the gates in," he said.

Boise police officials announced last week 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.

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