The boy has been identified as Nathan Whiteaker, of Kingsport.
“First what we’re going to do is gather all the facts,” said Kingsport Police Chief Gale Osborne. “If there are charges to be placed, we’ll certainly address that as well.”
For family members and friends who were gathered at the scene, the discovery of the boy’s body was “very traumatic,” said Osborne.
Osborne said the boy’s mother, identified as Amber Whiteaker, reported the child missing from a friend’s residence on Beartown Road at 4:21 p.m.
Kingsport police, fire and rescue personnel responded immediately and spent the next four hours conducting a “grid search” of dense brush below the home.
Osborne said four bloodhounds used in the search kept picking up a track that led in the direction of the Vulcan Materials Co. rock quarry on Deneen Lane.
“About 8:20, we found the child at the bottom of the rock quarry — one of our officers found him. The child was deceased,” said Osborne.
While the search for the boy was still in progress, Kingsport Police Department Deputy Chief David Quillin said that, according to the mother, she and her friend and an 8-year-old girl were all outside with the child just before he disappeared. They said they went inside for just a moment, and when they came back out he was nowhere to be seen.
Officials estimated the boy would have had to wander about three-quarters of a mile through dense woods to reach the quarry on his own.
“That’s quite a distance,” Osborne said when asked if he thought that was a long way for a toddler to wander.
“We’re going to treat it as a crime scene until we can prove otherwise,” he added.
The boy’s parents are currently separated and in the process of a divorce, police said.
According to the boy’s father, William Whiteaker, no custody agreement had been established, but he had dropped the boy off for a visit at the mother’s residence on Monday.
William Whiteaker said he didn’t know the people in the home, whom he described as friends of his wife.
There were reports early on during the search that a drug arrest was made after a large amount of mushrooms was found in the home.
Osborne confirmed an arrest was made at the residence.
“It’s my understanding they were growing mushrooms, so there was a drug arrest here as well,” he said.
Osborne did not give further details about who was arrested or what their charges were.