Mother pleads with police to keep searching for son swept away from SUV in floodwater

A California mother is pleading with police to keep searching for her five-year-old son who was swept away from her SUV by floodwater more than seven weeks ago.

Lindsy and Brian Doan have gone back to the Salinas River in San Miguel, central California, equipped with tools to search for the remains of their son Kyle, who was dragged away from his mother on 9 January.

At the beginning of the search, officers found one of Kyle’s shoes without locating the other. Since his remains haven’t been found, he’s still considered missing.

The storms hitting California last month killed 21 people. While Ms Doan is holding on to hope, she’s also trying to be realistic, wondering if his body has been buried by the shifting sands, spending most of her weekends carefully shovelling on the side of the river as she continues her search, which has become increasingly lonely as time has passed.

“We tried to do it as shallow to the ground as possible, just in case we hit anything because obviously, I don’t want to hurt him or damage his body,” she told The Bay Area News Group. “We’re basically scraping the sand and dirt.”

In the first few weeks after Kyle vanished in the waters of the Salinas River, crews of emergency workers from the California National Guard and Sheriff’s offices in the area assisted in the search.

Drones, helicopters, underwater sonar, divers, and cadaver dogs all took part.

Both President Biden and Governor Gavin Newsom made statements about Kyle.

“We won’t give up until we find Kyle,” Mr Newsom said during a press briefing. “And hopefully, miracle of miracles, he’ll be okay.”

California Storms Missing Boy (Doan Family)
California Storms Missing Boy (Doan Family)

His parents are now thinking those words may not have meant much.

Ms Doan told the newsgroup that a member of the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s department told her that the search may be in vain.

“He may very well be in the Monterey Bay by now,” the individual said, according to Ms Doan.

The mother said that only a small number of volunteers and members of the family have been taking part in the search for three weeks.

California Storms Missing Boy (Doan Family)
California Storms Missing Boy (Doan Family)

A GoFundMe fundraiser is paying for excavator equipment as well as lunches and gas cards for volunteers who have come from far away.

“We do get this feeling like they tabled Kyle as a cold case now,” Mr Doan said about the authorities to the newsgroup. “They’re not being forthcoming anymore. They don’t seem to want to return our calls or texts as promptly.”

California Storms Missing Boy (Doan Family)
California Storms Missing Boy (Doan Family)

Ms Doan wrote letters last week to Mr Newsom and San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson.

“It’s been excuses. ... ‘We’re waiting for the weather to get warmer. The water needs to recede more. It’s too cold for the dogs to come out.’ I get it. You’re tired,” she wrote in the letter sent on Wednesday. “But again I ask. If it was your child, when would you give up?”

California Storms Missing Boy (Doan Family)
California Storms Missing Boy (Doan Family)

The sheriff’s office told the newsgroup on Saturday that they would restart their search when “weather conditions and water levels permit”.

In a Friday statement, the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services said that the “full weight of the state remains behind the local officials leading the efforts”.

Following Ms Doan’s initial request, the permit process for excavators to be used on riverbanks was waived.

The family has bought kayaks and wading boots, and have used their own dogs in the search effort.

Kyle was lost in the waters on 9 January, the first day back at school after winter break.

California Storms Missing Boy (Neil Collins)
California Storms Missing Boy (Neil Collins)

Ms Doan is a special education teacher at Lillian Larsen Elementary school, where Kyle attended kindergarten.

Water covered the road crossing San Marcos Creek but it appeared to be at about the same depth that it had been the previous evening when the family had been able to pass securely, but the SUV soon started to drift and fill up with water.

Ms Doan climbed out, braced herself against a tree and told Kyle to exit via the driver’s door. She grabbed his hand, but the strong current took him away.

California Storms Missing Boy (Neil Collins)
California Storms Missing Boy (Neil Collins)

She let go of the tree and floated after Kyle, but on several occasions, she was dragged underwater and she was struck by trees and branches. She eventually couldn’t see Kyle anymore.

A couple running a farm next to the creek managed to drag Ms Doan from the water, but they were unable to get to Kyle.

Ms Doan still doesn’t drive, especially not past the area where Kyle was taken away by the floodwater.

The house is kept almost the same as when he disappeared.

“I feel like when he comes home, if he sees that things are moved, it’s going to feel like we moved on without him,” she told the newsgroup. “I don’t want him to think we moved on. I need to feel that he’s somehow still with us.”

The Independent has reached out to the office of the governor and the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office for comment.