DUBLIN — The search for missing 5-year-old Noah Terry Thomas came to a heartbreaking conclusion on Thursday afternoon after Noah’s body was found in a septic tank on the parents’ property.
While authorities had previously said the family’s house and the immediate surrounding area had been searched at least three times with nothing suspicious found, “a more detailed and aggressive search” was conducted and Noah’s body was discovered. It is unclear what led them to empty the septic tank.
Pulaski County Sheriff Jim Davis said that currently, no one is in custody. Noah’s body will be taken to the medical examiners’ office in Roanoke where an autopsy will be conducted to determine a cause of death.
“The parents continue to cooperate with authorities during this tragic time,” Davis said, reiterating his previous comments on the parents’ willingness to assist in the investigation.
The news of the discovery came just hours after the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office said that they would be offering a $5,000 reward for anyone with information leading to Noah’s location. A scheduled 2 p.m. press conference was abruptly canceled amid the flurry of activity.
At the Thomases’ house, in the 5400 block of Highland Road, officials roped off the entire house as FBI agents and evidence recovery teams came and went on Thursday.
A neighbor who lives down the street from the Thomases said that he’s lived in the neighborhood 30 years and said that every house has a septic tank. Almost all of the septic tanks on the street are 4 to 5 feet underground.
Throughout the investigation, Noah’s parents Ashley Jennifer White, 31, and Paul Raymond Thomas, 32, have been under intense public scrutiny. As the fifth day of searching got underway, they had yet to make a statement, speak to media or designate a spokesperson.
However, Noah’s aunt and uncle, Katherine Ide and Jason Thomas, were present at the news conference and broke down, saying that “No one loved Noah more than Paul and Ashley.”
Ide said that her nephew was outgoing, had a great laugh and was best friends with his father, Paul Thomas.
“You don’t get into a septic tank by accident. Someone’s going to pay,” Jason Thomas, Noah’s uncle, said.
“The people who pulled together to find him, I don’t think they’ll ever know how much they mean to us,” Ide said, thanking the crews who spent countless hours searching for their nephew.
Sheriff Davis repeatedly said in the early morning press conference on Thursday that the parents were “extremely distraught” and had been “extremely cooperative.” Davis said that they had sought legal advice, but that a lawyer had not been with them during questioning.
According to previous statements, Noah’s mother last saw him on Sunday morning watching cartoons about 8 or 8:15 a.m.. She then went to take a nap with their infant child and awoke about 10:35 to find that Noah was missing.
Crews began searching shortly after 11 a.m. on Sunday and have been operating nonstop since. Dozens of agencies, including the FBI Violent Crimes Against Children division, Virginia Department of Emergency Management, the Virginia State Police and several other local and state-wide agencies, participated.
Davis had previously said that Noah was in school on Friday, and video surveillance shows the family out in public on Saturday evening.
When asked if search warrants had been filed with regard to Noah’s disappearance, an assistant clerk at Pulaski County Circuit Court replied “everything in that case has been sealed.”
Help Save the Next Girl had planned to hold a vigil on Sunday evening at Riverlawn Elementary but organizers say that vigil might be postponed.
While it was initially believed that Noah may have wandered off, Davis and other authorities said they never ruled out the possibility that Noah had been abducted.
Now that Noah’s body has been found, it is unclear how the investigation will proceed.