WESTBOROUGH - A severely autistic 4-year-old boy who drowned in a murky pool at his apartment complex Sunday had been seen walking alone around the spacious facility, authorities said.
“We were told by maintenance crews at the complex that this child had been on his own wandering around before,’’ Alan Gordon, Westborough’s police chief, said in a telephone interview Monday.
Authorities believe that Alexie Lepoer pushed out a window screen at his parent’s first-floor apartment at the Park Village West complex and walked to the pool, which is bordered by a chain-link fence.
Alexie, who did not speak, carried with him a cordless phone he used as a toy, authorities said. It is believed that the boy crawled under the fence at a section where the lower portion is loose. Alexie was wearing a T-shirt and diaper. The diaper and phone were found near the fence.
On Monday, as investigators evaluated the scene where the boy drowned, the section of fence remained loose. The pool had not opened this year.
The gate at the pool was always locked, residents said Sunday.
Managers of the complex did not respond to several requests for an interview Monday.
The pool was last inspected by town regulators Aug. 17, when the fence was visually inspected and no problems were noted, said Paul McNulty, director of public health for the town.
The Board of Health is responsible for certifying the town’s public and semipublic pools.
He said his department has begun closer inspections of fences and has noticed several with similar problems.
Examining the gap under the fence on Monday, McNulty said, “I wouldn’t expect for a 4-year old to pull himself through that section. It’s just one of those things you would never expect, and you learn from.’’
McNulty said the fence at Park Village probably will be fixed by Tuesday.
A spokesman for the state’s Department of Families and Children declined to disclose whether the agency had prior contact with the family. The agency is investigating this case, as are the State Police. The state medical examiner is conducting an autopsy.
A man who answered the phone at the family’s apartment Monday said that Alexie went missing at approximately 3:40 p.m. Sunday and that about 10 minutes had passed before the family realized he was missing. The man, who asked not to be identified, said the boy had not slipped out before. “No, not that we know of,’’ he said.
The man described Alexie as “a blond-haired, blue-eyed angel.’’
According to the Worcester district attorney’s office, the family called police just before 5 p.m. Sunday to report him missing, and the boy was found about 30 minutes later, submerged in the pool. The water had only about 2 feet of visibility.
Emergency responders tried to resuscitate the boy at the scene.
He was taken to the UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, where he was pronounced dead.
Gordon said that while there have been drownings in area lakes, this is the first drowning in a pool in the town in at least 38 years.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based in Atlanta, drowning is the second-leading cause of unintentional death for children up to 14. Children up to age 4 have the highest drowning rates.
In 2009, the latest year for which there are national statistics, 261 children ages 1 to 4 drowned in swimming pools. Statewide, 38 people drowned in 2009, two of whom were under 14.
Julie Gilchrist, a medical epidemiologist with the CDC’s Injury Center, said it is impractical to expect parents to have eyes on their children around the clock.
“Barriers are critically important for this age group,’’ she said. “It’s critical that gates are maintained, making sure fences have integrity.’’