‘Heartbreaking’: Sheriff says body found in NC pond believed to be missing boy

4-year-old Raul Gonzalez Johnson. WNCN Photo

LAURINBURG, N.C. (AP/WNCN) — The FBI and other officials announced Saturday afternoon that they found a body they believe is a missing 4-year-old boy in a pond off Peabridge Road in Laurinburg.

Authorities were draining a pond Saturday near the area where Raul Gonzalez Johnson disappeared from his Scotland County home on Wednesday.

“It is with great sadness that we believe we have found the body of Raul Gonzalez Johnson,” Scotland County Sheriff Ralph Kersey said during an emotional news conference.

FBI spokeswoman Shelley Lynch said that the Scotland County Medical Examiner’s Office must still confirm the identity of the body and cause of death. The Amber Alert for Johnson was canceled around 8:30 p.m. Saturday.

Kersey said crews began draining the pond around 10:30 a.m. Saturday. Around 1:45 p.m., crews stopped pumping when they spotted something in the pond.

“We have prayed — but this is the outcome everyone feared. It is heartbreaking,” Kersey said as he held back tears.

Kersey said that so far the death appears to be accidental.

“We will continue the investigation until we have the answers about what happened to this little boy,” said Kersey, who said he actually met Johnson a few months ago.

Kersey said that having met Johnson he was more determined to find the boy.

“I know that I gave my best. It put a passion in me to do all that I could to bring him home safe,” Kersey said as he began crying.

Lynch said about 150 people planned to search about 30 sites near the Scotland County home of Johnson, who hasn’t been seen since Wednesday.

The FBI announcement came just before a planned news conference at 3 p.m.

Raul was last seen wearing a tiger-striped T-shirt and rocket ship pajama pants.

Scotland County authorities have said Raul left his home while his grandfather was babysitting him. The home is about 2,000 feet from the South Carolina line.

Sheriff Ralph Kersey has said Raul went to the home of a neighbor, who told him to go home.