Searchers mourn death of 9-year-old

May 22, 2013 11:37:55 AM

Sarah Fowler - [email protected]


The body of 9-year-old Justin Brown was pulled from Luxapalila Creek early Tuesday evening, ending a four-day search that began Saturday afternoon when the ATV he was riding flipped into the river. The currents quickly swept Justin and his brother, 6-year-old Jacob, out of reach.  


According to law enforcement, the Polaris ATV, driven by the boys' father, Billy Brown, and carrying the two boys and three additional passengers, was attempting to cross the spillway where Magby Creek joins Luxapalila Creek. The currents overturned the ATV, sending all six passengers into the water. Brown was the only adult on the off-road vehicle. Witnesses said people onshore rushed to grab the children out of the water but could not reach Justin or Jacob.  


Three days after the accident, a volunteer saw Justin Brown's body in the water, flagged down a boat and carried the body to Luxapalila Creek Park, Lowndes County Coroner Greg Merchant said, adding that he believes the body was discovered a quarter of a mile south of Green Hill Bridge. Jacob Brown's body was discovered Sunday 150 yards north of the Green Hill Bridge. 


Volunteers from the community and surrounding areas came out in force to help law enforcement search for the children. A volunteer command center was set up on the bank of the Luxapalila on Airline Road, where hundreds took to the water and the woods in an attempt to locate the boys. 


Volunteer coordinator Kelly Ray said she decided to help because as a mother, she could not imagine what the boys' mother, Kristy Brown, was going through. 


"I couldn't just sit at home," Ray said. "I've got kids of my own. I had to do something." 


Hours before Justin Brown's body was discovered Tuesday, Ray said she and others still had hope that the oldest boy had survived and was sitting on a river bank, waiting to be rescued. 


For that reason, Ray said she had avoided standing too close to the water's edge. 


"You're at the edge of the water and you see something pop up and you sit there and you look and you don't see it pop up again," she said. 


Around 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Ray's worst fear became reality as law enforcement and members of the Brown family identified Justin's body. 


As Kristy Brown walked on the scene, her shoulders shook with silent sobs. The boys' older sister, Elizabeth, had to be supported as she wept uncontrollably. 


Funeral arrangements for the boys are incomplete.

Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.