A 14-year-old Ohio boy missing since late December has been found dead in the chimney of an unoccupied home in a turn of events police say appears to be accidental.
Harley Dilly’s body was recovered Monday night in a house that had previously been checked by authorities multiple times, three and a half weeks after he was last seen walking to school on Dec. 20, Port Clinton Police Department Chief Robert Hickman said at a press conference on Tuesday.
“This is not the outcome anyone wanted, but thanks to your help and support, we have some closure for the family,” Hickman said as he fought back tears.
The house in which Harley’s body was found showed no signs of forced entry, and had locked windows and doors that were secured with a lockbox. Hickman said it is a summer home that is currently unoccupied and undergoing renovations.
He said a repeated canvass of the neighborhood led investigators to the house on Monday, and that Harley’s coat and glasses were found on the second floor next to a brick chimney.
“It appears that Harley climbed an antenna tower to the roof and entered the chimney. Once in the chimney, Harley’s jacket and glasses were pushed from the chimney through a flue and into the second floor of the house,” said Hickman, adding that the teen became trapped in the structure, which measured 9 inches by 13 inches.
The Ottawa County Coroner said the cause of death was compressive asphyxia, which occurs when heavy weight or pressure on the body prevents breathing, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
The coroner said in a statement the manner of death appears to be accidental, and that final identification is pending and that final autopsy findings are awaiting toxicology.
Foul play is not expected, and an investigation is ongoing, said Hickman.
“This is a tragic outcome to the case and a tough loss to the community,” Hickman said. “We talk about people coming together in a time of need. That’s exactly what we saw throughout the community and beyond. I now ask for the same compassion and support as the family and friends begin to grieve.”
Harley’s death was also grieved by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, who issued a statement confirming the loss on Tuesday.
“We are heartbroken over the outcome but know every effort was made to find Harley. Chief Hickman shouldered the weight of this investigation which has resulted in a tragic loss for the community of Port Clinton,” the statement read. “No case is tougher than when a kid goes missing.”
The hunt for Harley had been in motion since Dec. 20, when the teen headed for school after telling his mother he felt sick.
His phone had been taken away by his parents at the time of his disappearance, which may have upset him, Hickman previously said at a press conference.
“In the past, when [he and his family] have a conflict in the residence, Harley will go away for the night,” Hickman said, adding that Harley’s parents didn’t worry about not hearing from him until the following day because they had his phone.
In the weeks since, the Port Clinton Police Department continued to share updates as to the status of their search, and a reward for information leading to Harley’s return was up to $19,000.
By Dec. 26, police had searched more than 150 acres with the help of helicopters, search and rescue canine teams, and approximately 75 law enforcement agencies and fire and rescue departments — on the local, county, state, and federal levels.
Harley’s family issued a statement through the department on Dec. 27, thanking the community for helping in the search for their son.
“As you can imagine our family is terribly distraught at this time. This is not the Christmas wish we had hoped for,” the statement read. “We pray for the safe return of our son, Harley. Harley if you hear/read this, please come home we missed you, your family miss you. You are not in trouble. We love you. Thank you one and all for the continued effort and work you are doing, and for all your thoughts and prayers. Pray, share, keep your eyes open.”