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UPDATED: Volunteers welcome in search for boy but police ask discretion

Update, Friday, 10:15 a.m. – Kitty Hawk police say they’ve received a large number of calls from people who want to help search for the 4-year-old New Hampshire boy swept to sea in heavy surf Wednesday.

“Due to wind, currents and other environmental conditions we cannot pinpoint a specific area for searching,” town police Chief Joel Johnson said. “If you or a group would like to search you are more than welcome. We only ask that you call 911 immediately if you find anything and refrain from any other communication.”

Police say it’s important that if the boy’s body is found, they are the first to tell the family.

Stay with thecoastlandtimes.com for updates.

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A memorial is in the making at the Lillian Street beach access in Kitty Hawk for the family of a 4-year-old boy swept out to sea in rough surf Wednesday afternoon.

Local residents and visitors Thursday fashioned a heart out of shells and placed inside it a driftwood cross. Folks also wrote messages of sympathy on seashells and left them nearby.

Police Chief Joel C. Johnson on Thursday thanked the community for pulling together and offering to help with the search or provide support for first responders.

“However, at this time all search efforts have been suspended and have now transitioned to recovery efforts,” he said. “Continued well wishes and calls for peace are welcomed. We will pass all of them along to the family.”

Johnson and the Coast Guard said the boy’s family was visiting the Outer Banks from New Hampshire on vacation. He was with his mother, walking along the shore near Kitty Hawk Road, when he was swept out into the ocean about 4 p.m. His mother lost sight of him in the rough surf, authorities said.

The Coast Guard, Kitty Hawk Ocean Rescue, Kitty Hawk police and other agencies searched 130 nautical square miles with a helicopter and lifeboat for nearly five hours before suspending operations last night.

“Suspending a search for anyone, let alone a young child, is the most difficult thing a commanding officer in the Coast Guard is called upon to do,” said Capt. Bion Stewart, commander, Sector North Carolina. “I can’t imagine what the family of this little boy is going through right now.”

Chief Johnson called the incident “a tragic accident.”

“Under the watchful eye of the attending parents while walking along the shore, a 4-year-old boy was swept from his mother into the ocean and carried away by the current,” the chief wrote in a Facebook post earlier Wednesday evening.

“As parents, this is our worst nightmare, even for those of us who love and have grown up by the ocean,” Johnson said.

Authorities have not identified the boy.