Missing boy with autism found dead in Peoria

By Audrey Wise

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    Marquail Johnson, 8, was found dead Thursday morning in the 700 block of Western in Peoria.

5 photos

August 16, 2013 Updated Aug 16, 2013 at 11:24 AM CDT

PEORIA, Ill. -- Peoria Police are investigating whether the death of a young boy was a homicide or a tragic accident.

The body of Marquail Johnson, 8, was found shortly before 8 a.m. Thursday morning behind a residence at 740 S. Western Avenue.

Police Chief Steve Settingsgaard said the boy was discovered in an abandoned “older model” refrigerator.

"A Peoria Police officer was searching a yard, located a small refrigerator in the exterior of the house and he was deceased inside," said Chief Settingsgaard.

Johnson was last seen alive in an alley behind 810 S. Western around 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Early Thursday morning, authorities issued an alert that the boy had been reported missing Wednesday night.

Police said the boy had autism and a speech impediment.

In the alert, authorities said Johnson was possibly abducted by a white male described as 5”9’ and 160 pounds with gray hair and a beard, wearing a yellow shirt and blue jeans.

Authorities said that information came from a young relative. Police are perusing that as detectives piece together what happened.

“We're considering all possibilities,” said Chief Settingsgaard. “He may have climbed in himself playing and somehow closed the door or other kids were playing with him and someone closed the door. We're not ruling out foul play either, that's a possibility. I hope that doesn't turn out to be the case."

Nikki Green, Johnson's cousin said the circumstances are odd,

"I think somebody had to take him because where they found him at, he doesn't play with old appliances," said Green.

The refrigerator he was found is described as an older model.

"It appears to be the type that if you close it and latch it you can't get out," said Chief Settingsgaard.

He said years ago many children died from climbing into these. Now styles have changed and communities across the county, including Peoria, put laws into place to prevent this.

"If such a refrigerator is sitting out a door has to be removed or other communities say a door has to be removed or the latch has to be removed so that this isn't possible," said Chief Settingsgaard.

Police said there were no obvious signs of trauma on the body. Autopsy results show Johnson most likely died of suffocation. A toxicology report has been ordered, and the police investigation continues. The incident is being investigated at this time as a "suspicious death".

Anyone with information is asked to call Peoria Police or Crimestoppers at (309) 673-9000.

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