MARSHALLTOWN, Iowa - An Iowa 13-year-old who ran away from home last week after his parents took away his cellphone was found dead Sunday less than a mile and a half from his house.
The body of Corey Brown, of Marshalltown, was found around 11:45 a.m. Sunday in a secluded area of the city, which is located just over 50 miles northeast of Des Moines. Corey had been missing for more than four days.
“At this time, there is no evidence or information that indicates criminal activity is connected to this missing person/death investigation,” police officials said in a statement posted on Facebook. “However, this is still an active investigation and all possible scenarios will be thoroughly investigated.”
Marshalltown police Chief Mike Tupper told NBC News on Monday that it wasn’t clear if Corey was familiar with the area in which he was found.
“We believe we will be able to accurately account for his steps and whereabouts,” Tupper said.
The chief previously told reporters at a news conference that Corey left home following an argument with his parents, during which they had taken his phone. According to the Times-Republican in Marshalltown, security camera footage showed the boy leaving his home around 11 p.m. Jan. 22, while the city and surrounding area were under a winter weather advisory.
His parents did not realize he was missing until the following morning, when they found his bedroom empty, the newspaper reported.
“Anyone with kids has had discussions with their children about household rules,” Tupper told NBC News. “This was a typical parent-teenager interaction. No anger. Nothing extraordinary.”
The Browns immediately reported their son missing, the Times-Republican reported. More than a dozen law enforcement agencies from around Iowa joined Marshalltown first responders in search efforts coordinated out of a local Lutheran church, police officials said.
Hundreds of volunteers also began showing up at an area Catholic church to form search parties, but Tupper and his crews sent the volunteers home so they would not impede the search efforts, the newspaper reported.
Efforts were already hampered by frigid temperatures and more than 6 inches of snow that fell the night Corey left his home and the following day. Temperatures topped out at 29 degrees while the boy was missing and the lowest temperature, recorded Friday morning, was -9 degrees, NBC News reported.
Corey’s family made an impassioned plea Thursday for the teen to come home.
“Corey if you are out there please come home,” a tearful Michelle Brown said. “You know how much we love you and I’m not going to stop until we find you. If you are out there, come home. We love you more than you’ll ever know.”
Listen to Corey Brown’s mother speak below, courtesy of WHO-TV.
It was unclear Monday how long the teen survived the weather, but an autopsy was planned to determine when and how he died. Tupper said Corey was found in the same clothing he was wearing when he vanished -- a red shirt, black pants, a black and lime green coat and a Seattle Seahawks stocking cap.
Corey’s fellow students at Miller Middle School spent part of the day Monday decorating his locker with notes of remembrance for the eighth-grader described as a bright, kind and friendly child.
“Rest in peace. You were an awesome friend and a great person and I wish I just could have said bye,” one note read, according to the Times-Republican.
“We will miss you so much,” another note read.
Marshalltown Community School District officials told the newspaper that additional counselors were and would remain at the middle school, as well as at the high school, for several days to help students, faculty and staff process their loss.
Marshalltown Mayor Joel Greer offered his condolences on Facebook to the Brown family, who Tupper said requested privacy following the discovery of Corey’s body.
Our hearts bleed for the Brown family,” Greer wrote, according to the paper. “The whole city and all well-wishers will keep them in our thoughts and continue our prayers for them.”
In an opinion piece published Tuesday by the Times-Republican, Tupper expressed dismay with some of the national news coverage of Brown’s disappearance, accusing some media outlets of sensationalizing and inaccurately reporting details of the case “in an effort to hint someone must be to blame.” He also pointed at “keyboard warriors on social media” who speculated and theorized on what happened and who might be to blame.
“I have held the hand of far too many parents as they mourn the loss of a child,” Tupper wrote. “Any senseless or unexpected loss of life is difficult to deal with but, when a child dies, it hurts in ways that for me are indescribable.”
The chief wrote that it is normal to seek answers and accountability when a tragedy takes place, but that sometimes, there is no explanation.
“We convince ourselves we would have done something different to prevent tragedy had it been us in the shoes of those dealt the horrible blow,” Tupper wrote. “Maybe this is how we cope. Maybe this is how we try to convince ourselves such horrible things will never happen to us. We know better after all and someone must have done something wrong to cause this.”
That mindset is wrong, the chief wrote.
“The Brown family deserves, and needs, our support, our love,” Tupper wrote. “They deserve compassion. There is nobody to blame here, folks.
“Corey Brown did nothing wrong. The Brown family did nothing wrong. They were the victims of unfortunate circumstances that could have just as easily visited our own families. Tragedy sometimes just happens. All you can do is support one another.”