A massive search for two missing Licking boys ended in tragedy Monday morning when their bodies were found in the Big Piney River.
Jesse James Bagley, 7, and his brother, Wyatt Earp Bagley, 4, were discovered drowned in the river about 100 yards from their home on Hazelton Drive in remote northwest Texas County.
The brothers were reported missing by their mother, Jennifer Bagley, at 5:20 p.m. Sunday. She had not seen them in more than an hour and was alerted by her 3-year-old daughter that her brothers were gone, authorities said.
The boys’ disappearance sparked an area-wide search that included members of multiple law enforcement agencies, rescue personnel, fire departments and volunteers from the region. They combed the densely wooded area by foot, horses, ATVs and boats throughout the night and into Monday morning. Rock climbers searched rugged parts, and a Missouri State Highway Patrol helicopter equipped with night-vision equipment and K-9 units joined the effort shortly before midnight. A mobile command unit arrived an hour later.
Rescue efforts came to an abrupt end when the boys were found dead.
“We were praying for another outcome all throughout the night,” said Tim Umfleet, who organized the search efforts in the front yard of the home where the boys were last seen. “We expected a different outcome.”
Jesse’s body was discovered at 7:07 a.m. by Missouri State Water Patrol divers in 4 1/2 feet of water, according to a patrol report. It was about 20 feet from a dock on the river. Wyatt’s body was spotted in a logjam about 100 yards downstream by a patrol helicopter and removed at 7:42 a.m. by the water patrol.
Tom Whitaker, Texas County coroner, said he found no injuries from Tuesday’s autopsies. He said “everything points to an accidental drowning on both boys.” Toxicology results will take several weeks, Whitaker said.
Lt. Melissa Dunn of the Texas County Sheriff’s Department said the river is calm and 12-14 feet deep near the dock. The water is visible from the house, and there is no fence. There are two unpaved boat ramps at the site.
The boys were last seen playing in the front yard of the home, which was rented by their grandparents. They lived there with their mother and sister, who has since been removed from the home by a unit within the Missouri Department of Social Services.
Beginning with the Texas County Sheriff’s Department and Licking Fire Department, rescue personnel began arrive in droves following the 911 call for help. Agencies from across the region offered support and many were on standby.
Local businesses provided food, drinks and other items for searchers. At 1:30 a.m. Monday, Umfleet said more than 290 civilians were at the scene to assist with the search for the boys.
“That was an absolutely unbelievable response,” Umfleet said.
The task was difficult, Texas County Sheriff Carl Watson said. Dark fell not long after the search began. The undergrowth was heavy, and the terrain was rugged, especially along the river.
Footprints were spotted in the sand near the river Sunday night, but they did not lead to the boys.
“We had no idea where they were when the search began,” Watson said. “It covered a large area.”
The boys’ father, James Bagley, is serving a controlled substance sentence at the South Central Corrections Center in Licking. He was notified of the deaths by the Missouri Department of Corrections.
“It’s tough anytime it ends this way,” Watson said. “We all feel for the family.”