The two boys, 7 and 8 years old, didn't return from a bike ride on Sunday morning and were later found in the pond

By Benjamin VanHoose
December 24, 2019 04:15 PM
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Two young boys died over the weekend after drowning in a pond, the Associated Press and other outlets reported.

Cleveland “C.J.” Hicks, 7, and Terrance Hicks, 8, went for a bike ride together on Sunday and raised concerns when they didn’t return home when they were supposed to, according to local news outlet KMOV. Authorities said the brothers rode to a pond on private property in St. Clair, Missouri.

Worried family members went on the lookout for the boys that afternoon, according to the local news outlet. That’s when one member of the search party reportedly found the younger of the two siblings floating in the pond.

Divers found Terrance soon after, and both boys were pronounced dead later at the hospital, according to KMOV.

Representatives from the Missouri State Highway Patrol did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for confirmation.

Sheriff Steven Pelton told CNN that a working theory is that one of them slipped into the water and the other attempted to rescue him.

Opal Kamper, a neighbor who often spoke to the two boys when they were outside playing or going to school, told KMOV that their deaths are “going to be hard to get over for a long time.”

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“They would stop by in the evenings and visit with me and I would always give them a hug and they would hug me,” she said. “I would always say ‘I love ya.’ I told them, ‘I love you,’ they knew I loved them.”

The tragedy proved all the more heartbreaking for the family and loved ones as it came just days ahead of Christmas.

“I had their Christmas gifts ready for them,” said Kamper, 93. “And I thought, ‘Oh I won’t get to give it to them.'”

St. Clair Fire Protection District Chief Craig Sullivan told KWCH that the thickness of ice on ponds can be hard to read amid warming temperatures.

“Ice is not safe until you have approximately 4- to 5-inch thick ice,” he said, “and with the weather temperatures we’ve been experiencing, we have not had a long stretch of extremely cold weather to thicken that ice.”