MENIFEE, Calif. (AP) — Terry Dewayne Smith Jr. had been living with his mother for two years in Southern California when, a few months ago, the 11-year-old boy with sandy blond hair called his father in West Virginia and asked to come home.
So when the boy's mother called from California on Sunday, Terry Dewayne Smith Sr. assumed it was about a plane ticket — until his ex-wife started asking some worrisome questions.
"She asked me if I was in California and I said, 'No, I'm still in West Virginia. Why?' She said, "Cause your son's missing,'" a shaken Terry Dewayne Smith Sr. recalled Thursday outside his Charleston, W.Va., apartment.
"And just the way she talked and the way she expressed it and all that, I knew something bad happened."
His worst fears were confirmed Wednesday when authorities in this Southern California town 80 miles southeast of Los Angeles announced they had found a body matching Terry Jr.'s description in a shallow grave under a tree behind his mother's house.
The boy's 16-year-old half brother was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of murder and could be charged as early as Friday, a person familiar with the investigation told The Associated Press on Thursday. The person requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly about the ongoing investigation.
The suspect's name has not been released. He has the same mother as the victim, but a different father.
Initial reports from the mother, relayed by law enforcement, described Terry Jr. as an autistic boy who took special medication and answered only to his nickname, "JuJu." His father, however, insisted that his son was not autistic.
The boy lived with him until 2011, when he went to live with his mother, and was a normal kid who loved video games and baseball, he said.
"He was a very bright, well-adjusted child, at least he was when he left here," said Terry Smith Sr., a 62-year-old retired truck driver. "He pushed buttons and would aggravate you. But, other than that, it was just the typical way ... of a typical boy trying to get his way."
Smith Sr. also helped raise the half brother accused in the case, even though he was not his biological father, he said. The teen moved from West Virginia to California after his mother abruptly pulled him out of school, he said.
"I taught him how to walk. I helped him when he was on the baseball team here," he said, recalling that he called the half brother "little Spider-Man."
A phone listing for the boy's mother, Shawna Smith, was disconnected. Messages left at a second number associated with her address were not returned.
Investigators told Smith Sr. that Terry Jr. died after a hit to the head but declined to say more, saying he didn't want to jeopardize the investigation.
"I think him and (the half brother) got into it and it went too far," said Smith Sr.
Hundreds of volunteers searched for Terry Jr. for more than three days in abandoned trailers and campsites tucked into the scrubby hillsides of rural Riverside County, where horse ranches dot the landscape and large stretches of land remain undeveloped. Sheriff's deputies fanned out on horseback and with bloodhounds in the triple-digit heat and helicopters buzzed overhead, searching for clues.
Now, Terry Smith Sr. just wishes he could see his son one more time. He hopes to have his remains cremated and sent back to West Virginia for burial, he said.
"All I want to do is get Terry Jr. back here because that was the last thing he told me on the phone," he said. "He wanted to come home."
Messina reported from Charleston, W.Va. AP Researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York contributed to this report.
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