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Hundreds join in search for boy

A 2-year-old boy slips away near a Pasco lake. A daylong search turns up no signs of the child.

By BRADY DENNIS and CHASE SQUIRES

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 25, 2002


A 2-year-old boy slips away near a Pasco lake. A daylong search turns up no signs of the child.

DADE CITY -- Armed with flashlights and hope, 250 volunteers marched into thick woods and marshlands surrounding Lake Pasadena. But their determination and prayers -- some uttered aloud -- turned up only frustration late into Thursday night.

Robert "Bobby" David Nystrom was nowhere to be found.

Helped by 60 law enforcement officers and 50 firefighters, searchers continued their quest late Thursday for Bobby, a 2-year-old who had been missing since noon.

The daylong search employed three helicopters, two airboats, six four-wheelers, several dogs and a personal watercraft.

The boy's mother, Marcia, last saw him about 11:45 a.m. at the family's house at 11546 Meadowlane Drive. She told deputies she went into another room to work on some church gift baskets.

The family's two cocker spaniels were out of their pen; the gate was open. One dog returned wet. The other was found stuck in the mud by the lake, prompting searchers to focus on nearby Lake Pasadena.

Bobby was last seen wearing a blue jumpsuit with a yellow flower on the front, blue tennis shoes and white socks.

Authorities said the child, who has two older brothers, knew the way to the lake because he had taken frequent walks there with his father, Joe, a doctor in Dade City and Zephyrhills.

What started as a small search effort had grown to a massive hunt by late afternoon.

Firefighters, police officers and other officials from across Tampa Bay showed up. Doctors, and staff from two area hospitals flocked to the scene, some still wearing their blue scrubs.

Neighbors signed up to search. Teenagers pedaled their bikes to the scene. A nun arrived.

Even east Pasco's newest multimillionaire pitched in.

"There's a human life involved," said Jim Smith, who won $11-million in the Lotto on Saturday. "You do anything you can."

That same feeling reverberated through the crowd.

"It's hard to stand around and do nothing," said Zephyrhills Police Sgt. Randy Grimm, who attends church with the Nystroms.

"It could be one of our kids," said Marilyn Burns, a staff member at Pasco Regional Medical Center in Dade City. "My stomach is nervous. I've been praying since I heard about it."

As the evening wore own, Checkers delivered more than 50 cheeseburgers. Cases of Pepsi appeared, seemingly from nowhere. Volunteers handed out bottled water.

The search along the lake was called off about 9:15 p.m., although crews kept searching late into the night.

Much of the area was dry due to drought, and investigators found several alligator nests among the reeds.

"We're hopeful he didn't go in that direction," said Pasco County Sheriff Bob White. "He's a very intelligent little boy, very bright. (Family members) think he would have the sense to stay on the beaten path."

White added that detectives also are exploring another possibility -- that Bobby was abducted from the neighborhood.

Marcia Nystrom runs a food bank for the family's church out of the garage, and White said investigators will look at the amount of traffic coming in and out.

While no firm evidence of a kidnapping exists, "we want to be on the safe side," White said.

Family members and friends sat around a dining room table inside the one-story rock home Thursday night. The kitchen phone rang loudly and often. The two cocker spaniels barked in the pen.

Outside, TV news crews swarmed, helicopters buzzed overhead and hundreds of flashlights criss-crossed the dark woods.

"Any time there is a child involved, it's a heart-wrenching experience," White said. "We're going to search until we can't search anymore."

-- Times staff writer Ryan Davis contributed to this report.

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