WESTON, Mich. - Collin Fletcher wasn't expected to be gone long when he set out from his Lenawee County home with his hunting rifle to spend part of his day off school shooting squirrels.
When the youth, 14, didn't show up for Morenci Middle School football practice at 3 p.m. Thursday - less than four hours later - his father, Duane, called authorities.
That call triggered an all-night search by Lenawee County sheriff's deputies, two search helicopters, and at least 100 volunteers.
The search ended early Friday, when Collin was spotted in a grassy area about a quarter-mile north of his Fairfield Township home.
He was dead, with a single gunshot to his abdomen, Lenawee County Sheriff Jack Welsh said.
Though the youth was in violation of a state law that hunters younger than age 17 must be accompanied by an adult, he had permission to hunt on the private land where he was found, Undersheriff Jim Anderson said.
"He did, at least, tell his family where he was going and we knew he was in an area he was familiar with because he was an avid hunter," Sheriff Welsh said. "That, he did right."
The Fletcher youth was an experienced shooter who has enjoyed hunting since early childhood, friends recalled. He has an older brother and sister in high school, and a younger sister in middle school.
"He was a great kid, happy-go-round, easygoing, loved hunting, fishing, being outdoors. He was a great neighbor and friend to my kids," said Gabby Stover, who was a longtime neighbor of the Fletcher family on Wabash Street, west of Morenci, until they moved about 18 months ago.
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Photographs of Collin and his older brother, Trevor, wearing camouflage and posing with hunting rifles years ago as children were posted online by their mother, Kelly Fletcher, on Myspace.com. The boys appear to be between the ages of 9 and 12 years old in the snapshots, beaming with rifles in hand.
Collin, photographed as a blue-eyed, sandy-haired boy, is expressionless and gazing in the distance from his perch in a tree in a photo marked with the caption: "Collin the great hunter." In another, he is lying in a grassy field, smiling with his camouflage hat over his eyes and rifle across his chest: "Collin asleep on the job."
The Fletcher family could not be reached for comment at their home on Terry Highway, two miles south of Weston. Young men on all-terrain vehicles chased after the media that tried to approach the house.
A fund has been set up at United Bank and Trust for donations for the Fletcher family.
Area parents learned first about the search and later about the tragedy through district-wide phone text and e-mail alerts, Morenci Schools Superintendent Michael Osborne said.
Counseling was offered at Morenci Middle School, though few students took part as students had a scheduled day off.
The counseling office could be chaotic when school resumes Monday, Mr. Osborne said.
"He was an outdoors man. He did his own thing. Basically, whatever he wanted, he did it. Hunting, fishing, you name it," said Nate Rutkowski, 20, who was among about a dozen young mourners who spoke with grief counselors at the middle school library.
Jarrett Keller, 18, agreed that he was "an outgoing and fun loving kid." He attended grief counseling with Mr. Rutkowski - both of whom are friends with Collin's older brother, Trevor, a student at Morenci High School.
A high school football game at Clinton High School began with a moment of silence in memory of the Fletcher youth. School administrators agreed it would be inappropriate to cancel the event because, the superintendent said, "We are trying to keep things going as normal as possible for as many people as possible."
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Collin Fletcher wasn't expected to be gone long when he set out from his Lenawee County home with his hunting rifle to spend part of his day off school shooting squirrels.