Under pouring rain on Saturday morning, search crews returned to the banks of the Red River near Winnipeg’s Louise Bridge to resume the hunt for a nine-year-old boy who, hours earlier, slipped under the water and out of sight.
Darius Bezecki was biking with two brothers and a friend near his home on Friday afternoon when all four ended up in the river, Const. Jay Murray told a news conference Saturday morning. It’s unclear at this point if they were swimming or had fallen in, though that will be part of the investigation, he said.
Three of the boys were able to get out, but Darius didn’t make it out of the water, the officer said.
Darryl Contois was one of the people who came out Saturday to help hunt for Darius, after the initial police search had to be called off at sunset on Friday.
“The family’s here and we give them our support and let them know that we’re all here for him,” he said. “We’re a community, you know, and we try to help as much as we can.”
Paramedics and police responded to reports just after 4:30 p.m. Friday of someone in distress in the river near the Louise Bridge, Murray said. Crews had four boats in the water, and 12 police cruisers were searching the banks of the river, he said.
Water rescue crews and a drone with thermal imaging technology were being used in an attempt to find the boy. Murray said on Saturday, search crews are still focused on the immediate area around where Darius was last seen, but that could change based on what they find.
While the search shifted to a recovery phase on Friday evening, it’s still possible Darius got out of the river on his own, Murray said. He asked people who live near the Red River to check their yards and keep an eye out in case the boy was able to get out of the water.
“We are still holding out hope,” he said.
Contois said he stayed at the site until shortly after 2 a.m. Saturday, then went home for a few hours of sleep. He came back as the sun rose at about 5:30 a.m. to get in his boat and keep looking for Darius.
“I’m up and down the river trying to locate him. It’s trying to bring closure to that family,” Contois said. “The water rose probably … about a foot, I guess. And [there’s] a lot of debris, logs floating down the river, so it’s kind of treacherous.”
Contois said the boy’s family is emotional as they wait to see if search crews find anything.
Darius’s father “was sitting in water, and they had to pull him out because he’s crying looking for his son, you know, feeling around in the water trying to see if he can get him,” Contois said, his voice cracking.
“For the family to see him like that, it hurts. That’s the love of a father for his son…. He doesn’t even want to leave this place now, until his son is pulled out of the water.”
Contois said he heard the boys were playing near the river when they fell in and that Darius doesn’t know how to swim.
‘They’re not quitting’
Murray said the search has also been tough for officers, many of whom have kids around the same age as Darius.
“I don’t think anyone can fathom the pain, the anxiety and the worry that that family is experiencing right now. It was incredibly tough to speak with them, to see that raw emotion,” he said.
“This is an incident that’s going to tug at the hearts of a lot of people in Winnipeg and even beyond our city. It’s extremely sad and we hope that there’s a positive outcome.”
Contois said the rain makes search efforts more difficult, but it won’t be enough to send the group home before they find something.
“Everybody’s wet, you know, but they’re here. They’re not going home. They’re not quitting. And that shows something: community spirit. And I’m thankful for everyone that’s here,” he said.
“People that didn’t even know the family are here offering their support and coffee and doughnuts and stuff like that.”
And as the search drags on, Contois said the group is trying to stay positive, hoping for some sign of what happened to Darius.
“I’m just hoping he’s not in there.”