WORCESTER, Mass. — All Massachusetts authorities could say for sure is that they found the lifeless body of a small boy, apparently cast off the side of a highway.
An autopsy should reveal if the child is Jeremiah Oliver, the Fitchburg 5-year-old missing for months before police learned of his disappearance and began looking for him. Jeremiah’s case has led to criminal charges against his mother and her boyfriend and calls for changes within the state’s child welfare agency. Three state workers have been fired.
“What we know right now is that a young child has died, and that his body has been disposed of in a heartless way,” Gov. Deval Patrick said in a statement Friday. “As we await news about the child’s identity, as Governor and as a parent, I feel a deep sadness.”
The body found off a highway in central Massachusetts matched Jeremiah’s height and weight, authorities said. Worcester County District Attorney Joseph Early Jr. said authorities can’t make a positive identification until the state medical examiner conducts an autopsy.
“It appears to be a homicide,” the prosecutor said at a news conference.
Jeremiah was last seen by relatives in September but wasn’t reported missing until December. Authorities have said they feared he was dead.
Early said the body was found at about 9 a.m. Friday by a police search team about 40 feet off Interstate 190 near Sterling, which is about 12 miles from Fitchburg. He said it was wrapped in blanket-like material, and packed in material that resembled a suitcase.
He would not say what led authorities to the location, or how long the body may have been there. He said the site is near an area that is regularly mowed on the side of the highway but would not have been visible to passing cars.