'The child was genuinely concerned about his dad'

RANTOUL — The co-owner of a business where a 12-year-old boy and his dog were taken after they were abandoned by the boy’s father Wednesday said the child was understandably upset that he didn’t know where his father was.

The child and pet were found inside a Freightliner semi tractor parked near Doc’s Auto, 329 N. Century Blvd., according to Cathy Belcher, co-owner of Doc’s.

Belcher’s husband, Doc Belcher, went to check on the truck about 8:30 a.m. after it was found parked on their property. It began a series of events that alarmed many in the community after weapons, a large amount of ammunition and two explosive devices were found inside the truck.

The boy’s father, Jeremiah Bridges, 39, of Greencastle, Ind., was nowhere to be found and was thought to be possibly armed and suicidal. The incident set off a manhunt that ended late Wednesday afternoon when Bridges was arrested on Belle Avenue, about two blocks south of where he left the Freightliner parked.

Bridges, who has been charged with endangering the life or health of a child, unlawful use of a weapon and possession of an explosive/incendiary device, is due to be arraigned Friday afternoon in Champaign County Circuit Court.

According to Belcher, the boy told Doc Belcher that he and his father were traveling and had stopped for the night.

“Doc asked him how old he was. He said he was 12,” Cathy Belcher said.

Doc Belcher then left but not before telling the boy he could come to their shop if he needed anything, and when his father returned to have him “come down to talk to us.”

After an hour passed, the Belchers called Rantoul police and asked for a welfare check on the boy and dog. Police then came to the automotive shop.

“The child was genuinely concerned about his dad, where his dad was,” Cathy Belcher said.

The boy and dog were later taken to the Rantoul police station, and officers made a search of the truck, where they found the weapons, ammunition and the explosive devices.

Rantoul police Lt. Jeff Wooten said both devices had “explosive properties.”

The Champaign/University of Illinois bomb squad was called and the area, including U.S. 45, was cordoned off to traffic. Businesses that were thought to be in harm’s way of a blast were asked to close.

Wooten said one of the explosive devices “looked like a hand grenade with a fuse sticking out of it.

“I don’t know what the other one looked like because the bomb squad located it, identified it” and handled it.

Both devices were taken to an area north of Rantoul and disarmed. Wooten said they were not exploded so they could be kept as evidence.

Wooten said after the explosive devices were found, a large number of emergency personnel responded to the scene, including a dozen Rantoul officers, six officers from the county sheriff’s office, six Rantoul firefighters, several paramedics and members of the bomb squad.

The scene was cleared about 2 p.m.

Wooten said the boy and his dog were placed in the custody of the boy’s grandmother.

A Fox Champaign news crew that was on the site where the truck was found was packing up equipment when Bridges was spotted walking. Police were called, and they arrested Bridges, who was unarmed, about 6:30 p.m.

“He provided a story as to his whereabouts, but frankly (the story) didn’t seem very plausible, and we’re still working that aspect of the investigation,” Wooten said.

Wooten said he has no idea why Bridges was in Rantoul.

He said Bridges’ criminal record includes a “minor arrest for some kind of drug possession.”

dhinton@rantoulpress.com

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