Investigators thought 4-year-old Raul Johnson wandered away from home on Wednesday, wearing rocket ship pajama pants and a tiger-striped shirt. He was barefoot.
But there’s been no sign of the boy since. Search dogs led investigators from Raul’s home to a nearby pond, but police and a dive team had not found anything as of late Thursday afternoon.
An Amber Alert was issued for Raul on Wednesday. The alert said he was last seen on Village Drive Wednesday afternoon, walking toward Crestline Road in Laurinburg.
Thursday evening, Scotland County Sheriff Ralph E. Kersey said crews were transitioning from search and rescue to an “investigative approach.” The SBI and FBI had also joined the search, he said.
When Kersey was asked if he thought Raul was still alive, the sheriff said: “By faith I believe the little boy is still alive and that’s what I have to stand on.”
Raul is about 3 feet tall and weighs about 38 pounds. He has black hair, brown eyes and was last seen wearing a white and orange tiger-striped shirt and white pants with rocket ships on them.
No foul play is suspected in Raul’s disappearance so far, Kersey said, though the original Amber Alert indicated that he had been abducted. Kersey said investigators have looked at “every type of situation” including if the boy wandered off, was taken by someone or if he was moved by a family member.
Kersey said investigators have not come across any evidence or information that put them “any closer” to finding Raul.
“At this moment, nothing has been found in interviews with family, neighbors (or other information) to indicate that we’re dealing with foul play,” he said.
The most reliable information so far, though, has come from three K9 units that each separately “took the same course” from Raul’s home to a nearby pond. A dive team was at work on Thursday at the pond, a nearby canal and other small bodies of water, but hadn’t found anything as of about 7:00 p.m.
Investigators plan to drain the pond, Kersey said.
Raul has wandered away from home and been brought back in the past, Kersey said, adding that the boy likely was barefoot and couldn’t travel far if he wandered away.
Someone reported seeing Raul at a Walmart, but investigators were unable to determine if it was actually the boy, Kersey said. A piece of clothing that could be from Raul’s pajamas also had been found, but had not been confirmed.
Kersey said his deputies have been called to Raul’s home in the past, and that five to six different family members live at the home. He did not elaborate on the nature of those calls.
More than 200 personnel and 100 volunteers have been searching a 2-mile radius surrounding Raul’s Laurinburg home, Kersey said.
“It takes a toll on you, it takes a toll on me.” he said, and became emotional at one point during the press conference, asking parents to watch their children.
“Until we get something that indicates that there’s no hope ... we’ll continue to do what we’re doing now,” Kersey said. “I’m praying that we can move forward and continue to treat this as a search and rescue.”
Anyone with information about Raul Johnson is asked to call the Scotland County Sheriff`s Office immediately at 910-276-3385, or call 911.