Created on Saturday, 13 July 2013 Written by GILLIAN FLACCUS,Associated Press
SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — Pam Ragland was watching a TV report about the search for an 11-year-old California boy missing in a rural town miles away when she felt something wasn't right.
Ragland said she began crying and then a haunting vision popped into her head: A young boy lying on his side with his eyes closed.
The boy, Terry Dewayne Smith Jr., wasn't sleeping — and by the time Ragland's visions stopped, she had led detectives to his decomposing body behind his house in the Riverside County community of Menifee.
The remains had been partially buried in a shallow grave under a tree more than 60 miles from Ragland's Orange County home.
Prosecutors on Friday charged the boy's 16-year-old half brother with murder. The teen is due in juvenile court on Monday, and prosecutors have requested a hearing to determine if he should be tried as an adult.
The Associated Press is not naming the suspect because he is a juvenile.
Detectives acknowledged it was a bizarre way to find the boy's body, and they are investigating whether Ragland had anything to do with the death.
Ragland, 50, said she relies on intuition to see things that others don't.
"It was just his recurrent picture that was in my head that never changed," she said. "I was getting a snapshot, but I couldn't understand why he wasn't moving. He had his eyes closed, but I just thought he was sleeping."
Sgt. Lisa McConnell, a Riverside County sheriff's spokeswoman, confirmed that Ragland called in the tip that led them to the body, but she would not comment further. An investigation to rule out Ragland's possible involvement in the crime was ongoing, McConnell said.
"In terms of any kinds of abilities that she has, I can't confirm that," McConnell said.
A detective involved in the search, however, said he was impressed with the discovery.
"She actually went right up the driveway of the house, onto the property, and right up to the body of this boy," Riverside County sheriff's Detective John Powers told KFI-AM radio, which was the first media outlet to get officials to confirm her account.
"Not in 23 years have I ever seen anything like this," Powers said.
Powers did not return a call from The Associated Press.
At first, Ragland didn't want to get involved but said she couldn't ignore the images that kept coming back to her.
She said she saw a dirt road, a distinctive building that looked like a hay barn and a single tree standing alone. She saw a dark night with city lights in the distance.
She called the tip line Tuesday and a sergeant directed her to the sheriff's command center in Menifee, more than an hour's drive away. She piled her kids — a 10-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter — into her car.
By the time they reached the town 80 miles southeast of Los Angeles, it was pitch black and the third day of a massive search was winding down for the night.
Ragland said she had a powerful sensation as she pulled into the gravel parking lot of the rustic market that was serving as an impromptu search headquarters.
"I literally physically turned my body all the way around like a compass and I looked at the store ... and I said, 'He's back there,'" she recalled.
An off-duty firefighter agreed to drive her behind the store and within minutes Ragland had spotted the distinctive hay barn-type building that she had seen in her vision. Something urged her to keep going, but it was private property.
The group approached members of a family sitting in a driveway and asked if they could keep going through their property. It was the family of the missing boy and they said yes.
"We started to drive up this hill and it was steep so we stopped the car and walked," Ragland said. "All of sudden there was a single tree and then I smelled something."
There was a fence around the tree with a small break in it, and the group squeezed inside in the dark, with only the truck headlights and flashlights for light. Ragland's kids walked over to a bump in the dirt.
"My kids said ... 'Mom, there's a dead animal' and I walked over and said, 'Oh my gosh, that's not an animal,'" she recalled. "He was partially exposed and we were looking at it almost in shock. My son started throwing up and my daughter was screaming and crying."
The group immediately called authorities.
Ragland says she initially kept quiet about her role in the discovery but decided to speak out as questions multiplied about who had tipped off authorities.
It wasn't immediately clear how deputies using bloodhounds, on horseback and in helicopters over four days had missed the remains, which Ragland has described as sticking 6 or 8 inches out of the dirt.
McConnell said the area had been searched previously but no one saw anything. She did not know if the body was there at the time or had been moved later.
Now, Ragland is trying to get back to her regular life, which includes running a business that helps people work through stumbling blocks in their life using a combination of "intuition, expert coaching and practical advice."
Ragland says she has tried to help authorities once before, when two teens were missing in an Orange County wilderness area earlier this year.
They were ultimately found by rescuers who heard their cries for help.
Ragland does not consider herself a psychic but instead relies on a "sixth sense" or "intuition" that most people don't realize they have, she said.
"I've heard all the comments and people will say I'm crazy," she said. "At this point, all I can do is hope that this has brought the family closure and kept people from searching needlessly."
"We were truly hoping to find a little boy."
Initial reports from the mother of Terry Jr., relayed by law enforcement, described him as an autistic boy who took special medication and answered only to his nickname, "JuJu."
His father, however, insisted that his son was not autistic.