The 16-year-old half brother of a boy who went missing in semirural Menifee, Calif., will be charged with his younger sibling's murder, authorities said Friday.
The Riverside County District Attorney's Office announced Friday that it "made the decision to file a murder charge" against Skylor Atilano, 16, in the death of Terry Smith Jr.
The four-day search for 11-year-old Terry generated a massive effort involving many volunteers who were devastated when a body was found in a shallow grave early Wednesday. Terry had been reported missing Sunday, July 7, by his mother, who said he had autism.
Atilano, who had not previously been identified, will not appear in juvenile court until Monday, the DA's office said. Unless a judge prohibits it, the initial detention hearing will be open to the media and public because of the murder charge.
The DA’s Office said it was requesting a hearing to determine whether the case should be handled in juvenile court or in adult court.
Hundreds volunteered to search for the boy amid scorching heat around the Smith home about 80 miles southeast of Los Angeles.
On Tuesday night, an Orange County woman who describes herself as an “intuitive” went to the scene of the search after having a vision of Terry under a tree. In the family home’s backyard, she found a decaying head sticking out of the raw dirt, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department confirmed.
A body was unearthed on Wednesday, and Capt. John Hill, Menifee’s acting police chief, said it matched the description of Terry. Coroner’s officials still had not confirmed the identity of the body by Friday morning, but the DA's news release about the pending charge against Atilano said "body of Terry Smith Jr. was found" on Smith family property.
Hill announced Wednesday that the occupants of the home – previously said to include Terry’s mother Shawna Smith, her partner, and a 16-year-old half brother – had been questioned at the police station. A 16-year-old “family member,” Hill said, was arrested for murder.
An NBC4 source had confirmed that the suspect as Terry’s half brother.
A vigil for Terry Smith was planned for 7:30 p.m. Friday at Wheatfield Park in Menifee, according to the website Menifee 24/7.
More Southern California Stories: