5-year-old boy with autism found dead in pond near Orange County home

Aaron Peña found Thanksgiving morning after walking away from home on Savannah Landing Circle

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – A missing child search ended in tragedy Thanksgiving morning after the body of 5-year-old Aaron Peña was recovered from a pond near his Orange County home, according to deputies.

Peña’s mother, Melissa Stanton, said the 5-year-old was non-verbal with autism and wandered away from his home Wednesday.

The boy’s home is located near Moss Park Road and State Road 417, according to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.

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Stanton told News 6 that he walked out of the back door of the house at about 12:45 p.m.

According to Stanton, she had been working from home when she realized she couldn’t hear Peña in the background, which is when she realized something was wrong.

“I wasn’t hearing any type of laughing sounds or him singing over and over — like, repetitive songs — he does that, or he’ll usually create a scenario where he’ll talk to himself about the birds and colors and songs that he watches on YouTube,” she said.

Aaron Pena, 5 (Copyright 2022 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

Stanton said she then went to check her children’s rooms, and after finding that he wasn’t there, she saw that the back door had been opened. While the door is usually locked, she told News 6 that she believes Peña figured out how to unlock it.

Stanton reported the child missing, leading deputies and neighbors to initiate a search near the home.

Just before 1 a.m. Thursday, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office reported the boy was found dead.

“It’s with a heavy heart that we must report that Aaron Pena was found, deceased, in a body of water not far from his home. We are grieving his loss and our prayers are with his family,” the sheriff’s office said in a Facebook post.

No other details have been released.

Stanton said that Peña was the youngest of her three children.

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About the Authors:

Thomas Mates is a digital storyteller for News 6 and ClickOrlando.com. He also produces the podcast Florida Foodie. Thomas is originally from Northeastern Pennsylvania and worked in Portland, Oregon before moving to Central Florida in August 2018. He graduated from Temple University with a degree in Journalism in 2010.

Anthony, a graduate of the University of Florida, joined ClickOrlando.com in April 2022.