Aaron Pena: Missing autistic boy, 5, found dead in pond near home on Thanksgiving morning

The devastated mother had alerted the police after realizing her differently-abled son had walked out of the back door of their home on Wednesday noon

Aaron Pena: Missing autistic boy, 5, found dead in pond near home on Thanksgiving morning
Five-year-old Aaron Peña reportedly drowned in a pond near his Orange County home on Thanksgiving morning, November 24 (Twitter/@NPapantonisWFTV)
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ORANGE COUNTY, FLORIDA: Authorities offered condolences after their search for a five-year-old, non-verbal and autistic boy ended in tragedy. The body of young Aaron Pena was recovered from a pond near his Orange County home on Thanksgiving morning, November 24.

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His devastated mother Melissa Stanton told the Orange County Sheriff’s deputies how her differently-abled son wandered away on Wednesday, November 23, from their home located near Moss Park Road and State Road 417. She said Pena walked out of the back door of the house at about 12.45 pm.

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Stanton said she had been working from home and realized at some point she couldn't hear her son in the background. "I wasn’t hearing any type of laughing sounds or him singing over and over — like, repetitive songs — he does that, or he'll usually create a scenario where he'll talk to himself about the birds and colors and songs that he watches on YouTube," she told WKMG News 6 in tears.

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The heartbroken mother recalled how she checked her children's rooms but couldn't find Pena anywhere. She eventually realized the back door had been opened. Stanton said the door is usually locked, but she believes her son figured out how to unlock it. The concerned parent immediately reported the child missing, prompting deputies and neighbors to initiate a search near the home. Authorities said the child was last seen wearing a brown long-sleeve shirt with a bear holding a boombox and light-colored pajama bottoms with a dinosaur print and no shoes.

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Stanton said Pena was the youngest of her three children. She couldn't stop crying on Wednesday night as she prayed for Pena to be found safe and brought back home. "He's attracted to bodies of water as well, so I went straight to the pool area and the pond," she said. "He has a little scar on his forehead and has a perfect smile," she added.


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Sheriff's deputies carried out an extensive search, even probing a nearby pond using sonar. Furthermore, they stopped all vehicles leaving the gated community of Nona Terrace where the boy lives, hoping to find any trace of him. Neighbors, as well as strangers, joined the search for the boy. "I just said, 'oh my God, I need to jump on my bike and grab a flashlight.' We were on the bike and said, 'let's go try to find him,'" neighbor Heidi Lear told WESH. "The last thing anybody wants is to lose their child, especially before Thanksgiving," she added.

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Tragically, just before 1 am on Thursday, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office reported that the child was found dead. “It’s with a heavy heart that we must report that Aaron Pena was found, deceased, in a body of water not far from his home. We are grieving his loss and our prayers are with his family,” the Sheriff’s office announced in a Facebook update. Authorities had not released further details at the time of publication.

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If you or anyone you know is seeking more information about the case, you are urged to contact the Orange County Sheriff's Office at 407-836-4357.

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