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Body of 4-year-old boy found days after wave swept him away from his mother in Outer Banks

The body of a 4-year-old boy was found five days after a ferocious wave swept him out to the sea while he was walking with his mother on a beach in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, police said.

Wesley Belisle's body was found at about 7:40 a.m. Monday, April 30, on Carova Beach, which is located about 30 miles north of the beach from where he disappeared, Kitty Hawk Police Chief Joel Johnson said in a statement on Facebook.

"Wesley's family has been notified and are making arrangements for him to be transported back to New Hampshire," Johnson said. "We hope that the outpouring of compassion and offers of support, thoughts and prayers to the Belisle family from people all over the world can bring them some amount of solace in this time of tremendous grief."

Wesley and his mother, who had been visiting the Outer Banks from their home in Manchester, New Hampshire, were walking in the shallow waters of the beach on a warm and sunny spring afternoon. But the surf was intense, with waves 4 to 6 feet high. Wesley and his mother were alone when the current knocked them off their feet, and ripped Wesley away from his mother.

She scoured the water for him, but another wave rushed in, and Wesley's mother lost sight of him in the surf," U.S. Coast Guard officials said.

The rescue crews searched Wednesday a total of 130 square nautical miles, deploying a Jayhawk helicopter and 47-foot motor lifeboat to scan the waters for the boy, according to a Coast Guard news release. But the only sign of the child was his hat, found about 2 miles north of where he was swept away, about an hour after he vanished, according to 13 News Now. By 8:30 p.m., the Coast Guard had suspended its search.

"Suspending a search for anyone, let alone a young child, is the most difficult thing a commanding officer in the Coast Guard is called upon to do," Capt. Bion Stewart, a commander of the North Carolina sector, said in a statement at the time. "I can't imagine what the family of this little boy is going through right now."

The news of the boy's disappearance had stunned residents and officials in this Outer Banks community, prompting locals to gather at the beach to join the search. One man hovered over the waters in his powered paraglider for two hours in the hope of finding the boy.

On Thursday morning, the search was back on, and a small group of local residents gathered at the beach, arranging shells in the sand in the shape of a heart. It became an impromptu memorial that grew throughout the day as more locals stopped by to pay their respects to the family.

By nightfall, the memorial had swelled to include crosses, balloons, flowers, lights, teddy bears and a time capsule with notes inside. People stopped by to write messages on shells in black marker. "God bless this family," one message said. "Please wrap your arms around them."

Jeremy Thomas, chief petty officer with the U.S. Coast Guard in Wilmington, could not say how frequently people are swept up by currents while walking in shallow water. But "we know that the rip currents in North Carolina are bad," he told The Washington Post late Thursday night.

"It's always a danger near the ocean," Thomas said. "It's just a tragic case. No one wants to see something like this happen."

Story by:  

Marwa Eltagouri is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post. She previously worked as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, where she covered crime, immigration and neighborhood change.

Samantha Schmidt is a reporter for Morning Mix.
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