WORCESTER (AP) — A child’s body found off a highway in central Massachusetts yesterday matches the height and weight of a 5-year-old boy who has been missing for seven months, and whose disappearance led to calls for changes in the state’s child welfare agency, authorities said.
Worcester County District Attorney Joseph Early Jr. said the body has not been positively identified as Jeremiah Oliver, of Fitchburg, and that won’t happen until after an autopsy by the state medical examiner.
“It appears to be a homicide,” he 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 about 9 a.m. 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.
Jeremiah’s mother, Elsa Oliver, 28, pleaded not guilty in March to charges including kidnapping, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, and reckless endangerment. Her boyfriend, Alberto Sierra, 23, pleaded not guilty to similar charges.
The family was being monitored by state social workers at the time, and the case led to intense scrutiny of the state Department of Children and Families.
Three employees of the agency — a social worker, a supervisor and an area manager — were fired after an internal investigation. Officials said the social worker had not made required monthly visits to the family.