Father charged in death of missing 5-year-old autistic son

The father of a 5-year-old autistic boy reported missing last week in Tennessee has been charged with murdering his son, authorities said.

Joseph Ray Daniels, 28, was arrested Saturday and charged with one count of criminal homicide three days after his son, Joe Clyde Daniels, was reported missing by his parents on Wednesday, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Daniels is believed to have killed the boy, who was non-verbal, and to have hidden his body several days earlier.

“Though this news is profoundly disappointing, we are grateful for the volunteers who gave time and resources this week to help search for Joe Clyde,” investigators posted on Twitter on Saturday. “That work will continue by law enforcement today, so we might provide a small degree of closure for his family and friends.”

After the boy was reported missing, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation issued an endangered child alert, setting off an exhaustive search near the boy’s home in Dickson County. Two days later, at a prosecutor’s request, TBI agents opened a criminal probe into the boy’s disappearance.

Investigators later determined that Daniels intentionally killed his son sometime late Tuesday or early Wednesday in the family’s home and then hid the boy’s body. Daniels was later booked into the Dickson County Jail on $1 million bond, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

Daniels has confessed to the crime, investigators said during a news conference Saturday. Investigators are still searching for the boy’s remains, according to The Tennessean.

Authorities told reporters that police had been called to the family’s home in the past following reports that the child had gone missing. But the blue-eyed boy with blond hair had always returned.

The search for the boy intensified to include helicopters, boats and cadaver dogs. It was not immediately clear what led to Daniels’ arrest and confession.

“I want to make sure everyone knows in Dickson County what a blessing we’ve had with the outpouring of volunteers and the community coming out and rallying around us,” Dickson County Sheriff Jeff Bledsoe said. “I know everyone’s hearts are breaking, just like ours, with the information we’ve received now.”

The boy’s two siblings, ages 3 and 8, have since been placed with relatives. Daniels’ family had no interactions with child welfare officials in the past three years and Daniels — who worked at an IT firm in Dickson — did not appear to have a criminal history, The Tennessean reports.

Neighbors, meanwhile, told the newspaper that the boy’s death did not come as a shock, saying they didn’t believe a young child would have simply wandered off from his home.

“I wanted to be wrong,” Dickson resident Nicole Cederoth told the newspaper. “I wanted to so bad.”

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