The volunteer kayaker who discovered the body of Kyrin Carter in a river in northwest Indiana on Monday said he never expected to find the missing 12-year-old himself, but he spent days searching with the hope that his skills as a fisherman could help bring the boy home.
"I came out here hoping every day to find him, but I didn't think I was actually gonna find him," Eric Smith said at the scene in Hammond, Indiana, on Tuesday morning. "So then, like, when I spotted him, it hit me different."
Hammond police said Smith called them at around 8:15 p.m. Monday night to report that he had located a body in the Little Calumet River, approximately 300 feet from where Kyrin went missing.
Kyrin, who was on the autism spectrum, was reported missing on May 15, last seen on surveillance footage walking barefoot away from the Best Western hotel where his family was staying and near the river where his body was found.
Dozens of family members and volunteers had scoured the area surrounding the hotel for days after Kyrin's disappearance, which happened when he was traveling to Indiana with his mother Danielle Duckworth for a family gathering.
A dive team responded to the scene Monday night and pulled the body from the water. The Lake County Coroner's office said early Tuesday that the body had been identified as Kyrin, of Kansas City, Missouri.
Smith said he is a truck driver who came to the area to look for Kyrin in his kayak on Monday afternoon after working 12 hours that day, thinking his experience with boating and fishing could help in the search.
"I'm a truck driver, a local truck driver, and I worked 12 hours that day. And I got off work at around 2 p.m. and then I came out here and just kayaked, but I, when I get off of work I usually go fishing or hiking and I love the outdoors and I knew I could help," Smith said.
"I came out here about 3 p.m. yesterday after work and I knew I was going to search for him, so I got my kayak and put it in the river here," Smith added.
Smith said he searched in the water for several hours as a friend walked along the shore, and he decided to do one more pass at around 8 p.m. before leaving as daylight started to fade.
"I don't know how many feet it is from here, but when I found him I threw a buoy out there and got out and called the police," Smith said, standing along the river and gesturing into the water.
He said he felt "happiness that I found him, that I could give the family closure. But then, spotting his body, like, it hit me hard. I wasn't ready for it, but that's what I came here to do."
Smith said he never thought he would be the one to find the missing boy.
"There were so many people out here, a lot of boots on the ground, and we covered this whole area. And I was going like, thinking, 'Where else can I check?' I thought I was at a dead end, but I kept coming out here checking," Smith said.
"A lot, a lot of people came together and gave their time. I put a lot of time into his missing case," he said, adding that he joined the search on foot starting Saturday, when he walked the neighborhood south of the area.
Police said multiple agencies made the decision Friday to temporarily stop the flow of water into the Little Calumet River "in an attempt to get as deep into the river as possible" amid the search for the boy.
Smith said it looked to him like the water levels went down about four feet and that effort helped him find Kyrin's body more quickly.
When asked what moved him to join the search, Smith said he thought about how Kyrin "was a kid and that he was lost and he needed help and I wanted to be involved and help find him."
"Because I looked at it, if it was my daughter, I would want somebody out there giving their all. But I kept thinking it was a lost kid and we've got to find him," Smith said, growing visibly emotional. "It hits me hard."