February 20, 2018 02:26 PM
What happened to Kevin Ayotte?
It's a question that has haunted his family and law enforcement in northern Minnesota for almost 35 years.
Kevin was only 3 years old when he and the family dog disappeared from their home outside Bemidji. The dog came back, but the little boy was never found.
You need to visit the Beltrami County Sheriff's Office and talk to Investigator Joe Kleszyk to find out what happened to 3 –year-old Kevin Ayotte.
"On September 30, 1982, Kevin disappeared,” said Kleszyk.
The sheriff's office has a case file on Kevin that contains thousands of items that go back almost 35 years.
"I think about Kevin a lot,” says Kleszyk. “I wonder where he's at. I wonder what's happened to him because it's a mystery. It's truly unexplainable to law enforcement what happened to him."
To learn more about Kevin's Ayotte's disappearance we stopped by the A.C. Clark Library at Bemidji State. There are old editions of the Bemidji Pioneer newspaper on microfilm.
The search was big news in Bemidji, and it would make headlines for more than a week. Kevin was a non-verbal little boy. He lived with his mom and two older brothers about 18 miles east of Bemidji.
“Kevin Ayotte was 3 and a half years old. He was a little boy from the East side of Sugarbush Township,” said Kleszyk
It's a rural area, a safe place with lots of woods. But there are bogs, a river and a lake nearby.
Nobody noticed Kevin leave the house.
"It wasn't out of the norm,” said Kleszyk. “Kevin had walked away several times, wondered around the property and he usually was found pretty quickly. The dog was gone as well."
Newspaper reports show the search expanded quickly.
"The next morning there was a massive ground search done for Kevin," said Kleszyk.
The community came together. Five hundred people showed up to help.
"The sheriff's office had help from the Minnesota State Patrol,” said Kleszyk. “They had a helicopter and fixed wing airplane in the air. Deputies were in canoes in the rivers nearby."
The FBI and BCA were involved. They interviewed neighbors and talked to known sex offenders. But nothing.
Then Kleszyk says there was a ray of hope.
"On Oct. 5, the dog showed back up,” said Kleszyk. “But no Kevin, just the dog.”
The Ayotte family's Springer Spaniel puppy named Flash came home. The dog's coat was carefully combed looking for clues about where it had been.
Kleszyk says veterinarians also pumped its stomach.
"They were able to determine that the only thing it had eaten in the last few days was swamp grass," said Kleszyk.
Articles in the Pioneer show that police then put a tracking collar on the dog. They took it to different places and released it hoping it would go to Kevin, but it ran home every time.
The family, police and searchers grew frustrated.
After nine days, there was no sign of him.
Years passed. Tips came in that took investigators from the Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office from coast to coast.
Kevin's picture was seen on milk cartons.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children created several age progression pictures showing what he might look like as an older boy, a teen, a young man and now as an adult.
5 Eyewitness News talked with Kevin’s mom JoAnne on the phone.
She now lives in Michigan.
“I walk by his picture on the wall every day and I wonder what happened to him?,” said JoAnne.
She believes her son was abducted. We offered to visit her but she politely declined an interview. She says it's still too painful to talk about.
"It's been 35 years since Kevin disappeared,” said Kleszyk. “And that's 35 years where that family doesn't know where their boy is. There's no clear answer what happened to Kevin Ayotte."
As Kleszyk scrolls through Kevin’s case file on the computer screen in his office he asks that we make one thing very clear.
"We want people to know these cases are never forgotten,” said Kleszyk. “They're never cold, they're never closed. We've always had an investigator assigned to them. We always will until we find Kevin."
If you have any information on what happened to Kevin Ayotte, please call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST.
You can reach Investigator Joe Kleszyk with the Beltrami County Sheriff's Office by calling 218-333-9111.