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Mitchell: Robert Larson, who found a boy’s remains, is a hero

Updated: June 18, 2013 7:42AM

Robert Larson is an authentic hero.

Larson, of suburban Westchester, found the remains of a baby boy in the Des Plaines River on Tuesday.

An autopsy performed on Wednesday was inconclusive to determine whether the boy is Bryeon Hunter, the Maywood boy who disappeared last month. But police believe the body belongs to Bryeon.

Hours after the body was found Tuesday, Bryeon’s mother Lakesha Baker, 21, and her boyfriend, Michael Scott, 21, appeared for a court hearing on first-degree murder charges.

The pair is accused of beating Bryeon to death and dumping his body into the Des Plaines River. Baker initially told police that three Hispanic men kidnapped the boy. Police issued an Amber Alert, but that story quickly fell apart when the couple started pointing fingers at each other.

Larson probably won’t end up a YouTube sensation like Charles Ramsey did after he helped Amanda Berry escape the Cleveland house of horrors where she had been held captive for a decade.

And his emotional remarks about finding the abused boy’s body in the river won’t go viral like Ramsey’s colorful commentary about a “white girl” running into the arms of a “black man.”

But Larson’s compassion for a small boy whose life was allegedly ended by the very people who were charged with caring for him reminded me what heroism is all about.

Some heroes are made in the moment. Others are made for the moment. Larson is the latter.

“I remember looking over the bridge into the water last month and thinking, ‘This can’t possibly be the final resting place for this boy. I could not accept that,’ ” Larson told reporters.

Although Larson did not know Bryeon’s family, and doesn’t even live in Maywood where this tragedy occurred, he made it his mission to rescue Bryeon from his watery grave.

Larson, who trains rescue cadaver dogs, has walked the banks of the Des Plaines River for 10 hours every day since April 17.

He told reporters he took only two days off to rest his dogs, and that he sold a donated canoe for $500 so that he could buy a kayak that would help him with his search.

Given that torrential rains forced rescuers to suspend the initial search, then floods and a dangerously swollen river delayed the search, most people thought Bryeon’s body would never be found anywhere near Maywood.

But Larson discovered the body “in a pile of driftwood a few feet from the river bank,” only a few miles south of where police believed the boy’s body was dumped.

When most of us think of heroes, we think of people who pull victims from burning buildings and automobiles, and those who rescue others from drowning.

We also called the young victims of gun violence who died trying to protect someone else and those extraordinary individuals who were gunned down for no apparent reason heroes.

Larson is a hero because he went out of his way to give Bryeon the dignity in death the boy was denied in life.

Larson couldn’t rescue Bryeon from the home where the boy was allegedly being beaten, nor could he save him from the people who may be responsible for his death.

But he could use his skills to make sure a tiny innocent was not forgotten.

In this instance, Larson was the good neighbor who did for his neighbor what the neighbor could not do for himself.

Maywood Police Chief Tim Curry had vowed that the village would never stop looking for Bryeon’s body, but this was an effort that required volunteers. For a while, especially after the mother and her boyfriend were charged in this case, it looked like Bryeon would be forgotten until his body washed up somewhere.

More than likely, someone would have stumbled upon the remains of the toddler.

After all, the weather is warming up and people are back out in that area.

Yet, it means a lot that Larson was actually looking for Bryeon.

Frankly, in this case, some people expressed concern that officials weren’t doing enough to find Bryeon, and that the crime wasn’t getting the level of attention it would get had it happened in some other community.

But volunteers had been searching the Des Plaines River almost every day since Bryeon disappeared, according to WBBM radio.

Larson’s heroic effort shows that in times of crisis, we are more connected than we may realize. Frankly, I’m sure most people were haunted by the look in this child’s eyes.

I’m thankful that Larson couldn’t forget what he saw.

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