Alaska News

Body of missing Kodiak 7-year-old found, troopers report

Update, Sunday, 6:30 p.m.: The body of a 7-year-old Kodiak boy missing since last weekend was found on Sunday, Alaska State Troopers reported.

The body of Sawyer Cipolla was found around 12:30 p.m. by two people recreating in the Pillar Mountain area of Kodiak, troopers wrote.

“There were no obvious signs of foul play identified at the scene by Troopers,” they wrote. The child’s remains will be sent to the state medical examiner’s office for autopsy, troopers said.

The investigation into his death continues, troopers said.

The boy had been the focus of a wide, intense search on Kodiak for more than a week. The child, who was on the autism spectrum, went missing from his home on Forest Drive midday May 7. Searchers have combed trails, thick brush and steep terrain over a roughly 15-square-mile area.

It wasn’t immediately clear how far the location where the body was found is from where he went missing. Pillar Mountain is just west of the city.

Hundreds of volunteers participated in the search. On Saturday, officials announced the search was shifting “from a widespread active search to a limited reactive search.”

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Earlier story from Saturday:

The sprawling search for a 7-year-old Kodiak boy who went missing last weekend has yielded no new leads despite extensive efforts from a legion of community members and agencies over the past week.

Now, Alaska State Troopers and Wildlife Troopers said Saturday, their strategy will shift “from a widespread active search to a limited reactive search.”

Searchers looking for Sawyer Cipolla, who is on the autism spectrum and went missing from his home midday May 7, have combed trails, thick brush and steep terrain over a roughly 15-square-mile area.

The mission to find Sawyer has brought together more than 2,500 volunteers — plus professionals, law enforcement, Navy SEALs and dog teams — and organizers have launched expansive ground and aerial efforts over several days in addition to coordinating searches by boat.

Alaska Wildlife Trooper Josh Boyle, who is the incident commander for the search, during a public briefing Saturday in Kodiak outlined one possibility for what officials believe may have happened.

“We believe the most likely scenario is that Sawyer went over the cliff at some point after dark and ended up getting pulled out by the tide,” Boyle said. He noted that it was “an imperfect scenario,” but it is “the most plausible scenario we have.”

He described the area where Sawyer’s scent was detected by canines as heavily wooded with game trails and walking trails, and said that dogs lost his scent by a cliff edge. Kodiak Island Search and Rescue planned to work again in that area Saturday afternoon, following previous efforts including ground searches from the beach and cliffs and the use of drones and thermal imaging, Boyle said.

As part of the change in search strategy announced Saturday, professional searchers and law enforcement will narrow their efforts to places “where new evidence or information suggests that Sawyer may be located,” troopers said in a statement.

“This change in tactics will have professional search teams and law enforcement responding to any new information, intel or tips in the search,” Lt. Paul Fussey, troopers’ statewide search and rescue coordinator, said during Saturday’s briefing. “The moment that we receive actual information regarding a potential location for Sawyer, we will immediately review it and search accordingly.

“The search for Sawyer is not over today,” Fussey said. “However, it will be taking a new shape.”

Sawyer doesn’t respond to his name but does respond to howling and the phrases “come on in” and “brigadier,” according to a missing persons poster being circulated. It says if someone says “Marco,” he may answer “Polo.”

Boyle expressed gratitude for those involved in the difficult search, and for the community of Kodiak in particular.

“It was both humbling and awe-inspiring to see the magnitude of generosity displayed over this last week — truly defining what it means to be a community and family coming together at a time of tragedy,” he said.

In addition to the widespread search efforts, specially trained law enforcement officers from several local, state and federal agencies — including the Kodiak and Anchorage police departments, Coast Guard and FBI, among others — have been conducting a criminal investigation into Sawyer’s disappearance, said Lt. Brent Johnson, deputy commander for the troopers’ C Detachment covering Western Alaska.

That team has followed up on every tip, canvassed the boy’s neighborhood, conducted dozens of interviews, searched multiple homes and reviewed security footage, he said.

“After a thorough multiday investigation involving over 20 law enforcement officers, we have identified no evidence of foul play and nothing suspicious to indicate that Sawyer was abducted or murdered,” Johnson said Saturday.

Boyle urged Kodiak residents in outlying areas to personally check crawlspaces, sheds and buildings if they haven’t already.

“This is a transition in the type and scope of search we’re conducting, but we will not stop looking,” Boyle said. “We will follow every lead we can, and this case will remain open until Sawyer is found.”

Troopers asked anyone with new information about the search to call 907-486-4121, and those who want to remain anonymous can share information online at dps.alaska.gov/ast/tips or through the AKtips smartphone app.

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