By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Remains fitting the description of a missing autistic boy were found buried in a shallow grave near his California home on Wednesday, police said, and a 16-year-old family member was arrested on suspicion of murder.
Captain John Hill, acting police chief of Menifee, California, said the remains had not yet been formally identified as the missing 11-year-old, Terry Smith, but appeared to belong to a male juvenile.
Police declined to name the suspect, citing the ongoing investigation, but said he is a 16-year-old relative of the missing boy who was taken into custody on suspicion of murder following an interview by detectives.
"One of the things I want to stress is that this is a domestic issue within that residence, and that there is no stranger in the city of Menifee that caused this to happen," Hill said at a news conference.
Terry Smith was reported missing from his home in Menifee, about 80 miles east of Los Angeles, on Sunday morning, prompting a search by authorities using helicopters and bloodhounds that was assisted by local volunteers.
The Riverside County Sheriff's Department has said the boy was last seen alive by his older brother between 7:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Saturday and that his mother contacted police when she did not find him in bed mid-morning the following day.
Hill said investigators went to the home early on Wednesday morning after receiving a report that possible human remains had been spotted there by a volunteer searcher, then found the partially exposed body.
He said police conducted multiple searches of the property using dogs and volunteers after the boy was reported missing, but did not explain how the remains were not found earlier.
"Sometimes it takes awhile for us to put all the puzzle pieces together in a circumstance like this," he said.
Local television news images showed forensic technicians working under a green tarp to remove the remains from dirt about 75 feet from the home and load the remains into a coroner's van with darkened windows.
Riverside County medical examiners were expected to conduct an autopsy to identify the remains in the coming days and determine a cause of death.
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Will Dunham)