ALLENTOWN, Pa. --The body of a missing 5-year-old boy with autism from Allentown was found in a canal, officials said Saturday evening during a news conference.
"This is a sad conclusion to the search. It's a sad day for our city, but as always the city pulled together," said Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski.
Officials said the body of 5-year-old Jayliel Vega was found under 6 feet of water in the Lehigh Canal, a quarter mile from where he went missing.
Volunteer Thurman Clark plucked a white Nabi Tablet in a red case from the canal around 12:45 p.m., handing it off to other searchers, who called police.
Clark's sister-in-law said they had only been searching in Canal Park for a few minutes.
"We looked right in the water and we saw a tablet sitting there. We didn't know exactly if it was his or not, we just saw a red case," said Desi Acker.
The tablet matches the description of the one belonging to Jayliel last seen around 11 p.m. New Year's Eve, running from a relative's home barefoot and without a coat.
Volunteer George Keller of Leesport, Pennsylvania, helped to retrieve the tablet.
"After two attempts of me going in and pushing it up, he's like I'll go in and grab it," said Keller. "He grabbed it, handed it to me, and then I brought it up and called 911."
Once the tablet was found, police and emergency vehicles quickly arrived on the scene.
Dive teams spent hours in the frigid canal waters as family members tearfully watched and waited.
Supporters clapped and cheered for Clark as he left after talking with investigators, thankful for a break in the case.
Dozens of people gathered near the canal and stayed there for hours, waiting for news.
"It was just heartbreaking. I couldn't imagine if it was my godson, my nephew, my kids. Anybody," said Acker.
Over the course of two days, hundreds of volunteers helped search for Jayliel, who went missing Thursday night.
"It was New Year's, he was visiting family and that was pretty much it. He was playing with his tablet in the home and then they realized he was not home," said cousin Cheyleen Cruz.
"He's the best brother. He's so sweet and loving," said Tayritza Molina, Jayliel's 16-year-old sister.
By evening, community members gathered around a memorial of candles and teddy bears to honor the boy they didn't even know.
"It's heartbreaking. I have a 5-year-old at home, and I can't imagine what the family's going through," said volunteer Tina Adkins.
"Being a father, if it was my kid I would want some people out there helping look for my child also," said volunteer Ricardo Gonzalez.
Terri Matthews, an advocate for children with autism who helped police in the search, says its not surprising Jayliel's body was found in water.
"There's not a sane level sense of danger," said Matthews. "They don't think water's deep or I can drown or I can't swim. They don't have that level of insecurity."
An autopsy is scheduled for 8 a.m. on Monday.
"Preliminary this is being considered a tragic accident, however, there will be a full investigation," said Allentown Police Chief Keith Morris.
Eleven search and rescues crews from Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey helped to look for the little boy, police said.
An Allentown funeral director, Nicos Elias, has offered to cover funeral costs for the family after learning they can't afford to bury their son.