A 14-year-old Toronto boy who was abducted on his way to school on Wednesday was an innocent pawn in a failed multimillion-dollar cocaine deal, police say.
Toronto Police said late Thursday that the boy had been found safe and was being taken for a medical checkup.
Police said they would provide more information on his disappearance at a Friday morning news conference.
The search for the boy stretched into its second day on Thursday as scrutiny fell upon his school for failing to report his absence for hours.
Superintendent Steve Watts told reporters the teen’s step-brother owes money in relation to a 100-kilogram cocaine theft last summer. The cocaine has a street value of $4-million. The step-brother has fled the Greater Toronto Area, but is co-operating with police.
“We believe that [he] was abducted as retribution for an unpaid drug debt,” said Supt. Watts, commander of the Organized Crime Enforcement Unit, adding that the teen has no involvement in the drug business.
Supt. Watts indicated that investigators have communicated with the abductors, but gave no details about whether a ransom was demanded.
“We would encourage those who took [the boy]to drop him off in a safe place, contact a lawyer and turn yourselves in,” Supt. Watts said.
“This is a 14-year-old innocent child,” he added. “He is not part of that business. He is not a part of that lifestyle.”
Earlier on Thursday, police discovered the burned-out remnants of a black Jeep Wrangler identical to the vehicle the teen was seen being forced into on Wednesday morning.
Witnesses told police they saw a teen boy yelling, “Help me, help me,” as two or three people forced him into a Jeep Wrangler around 8:30 a.m. Police received a report of “unknown trouble” from a witness soon after and investigated for the next nine hours without knowing the boy’s identity.
Staff at Newtonbrook Secondary School missed a morning deadline to issue an automated absentee notification to his parents, Toronto District School Board spokesman Ryan Bird said. The family received a call at 6:09 p.m.
The board has a policy of sending notifications to parents at 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. when children are absent. Four staff have been placed on “home assignment” while the board investigates why no morning call went out to the family.
Mr. Bird said his absence should have been noted in an 11 a.m. call. “For some reason it was not.”
The boy’s father called police at 5:30 p.m. after his son did not return from school. Once Toronto police correlated the teen’s absence with the morning abduction report, they requested an Amber Alert, issued around midnight.
Toronto police released security camera footage of a black Jeep Wrangler with oversized tires and a heavy-duty off-road bumpers. They are looking for two men, aged 18 to 22, who were wearing black jackets and bandanas on their heads.
News of the teen’s disappearance came as a shock to Rita Smith, who helps run an entrepreneurship program for local high-school students in which the teen has been participating since October.
Ms. Smith described the boy as an outstanding participant who never misses a class and always asks “the best questions.” He is involved with other activities too, she said, including violin lessons and French immersion studies at Newtonbrook.
“He stood out in our class like a gem,” she said.
With a report from The Canadian Press