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New Jersey father charged with murder after son found dead in burned car near high school

Child found dead in burning car in N.J.; father charged with murder, arson
Child found dead in burning car in N.J.; father charged with murder, arson 02:04

SAYREVILLE, N.J. -- A New Jersey father is now charged in the murder of his 9-year-old son, whose body was found inside a car police believe was intentionally set on fire.

Balloons were left across from a parking lot behind Sayreville War Memorial High School, where prosecutors say an unspeakable crime occurred.

A 9-year-old body was found dead inside a burning car that investigators say had been doused with gasoline and lit on fire.

Prosecutors have charged the boy's father, 43-year-old Manuel Rivera, with aggravated arson, murder, endangering the welfare of a child and desecration of human remains.

Authorities say the fire call came in just after 10:45 p.m. Thursday.

"Flames and it was black smoke, and it was pretty big. Like it was pretty big and we thought it was the high school. We thought it was the building," said witness Emily DePascale.

Authorities say at the same time, another 911 call was received from a woman who told dispatchers Rvera had taken their son after a domestic dispute. 

Prosecutors say when police arrived at the high school, they found Rivera alive next to the car with body burns and a self-inflicted wound. Then, they made the gruesome discovery.

Rivera was taken to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital to be treated for his injuries. He remains in critical condition.

Watch Nick Caloway's report

New Jersey man charged with arson after son found dead in burning car 02:15

Mayor Kennedy O'Brien released a statement saying the community is safe and "stands in solidarity" with the child and his loved ones.

"On this Good Friday, Sayreville is waking up to learn of a horrific incident that occurred overnight that shakes our community to its core: the loss of a nine-year-old child, allegedly at the hands of a parent. Any time such senseless violence involves one of our children, it gravely affects all of Sayreville," O'Brien wrote.

Neighbors were stunned by the news. 

"I had to tell my kids, which was not the best time, to make him try to understand. So he's kind of upset inside," said Leonardo DaSilva. 

DaSilva lives around the corner from the home. He said his son went to elementary school with the boy and they played together often. 

"He was a very happy kid, always running around," said DaSilva. "Super sad. I have my own 8-year-old and he's the same way. So just looking at my kid, and I imagine he's here, I mean that hurts. So I feel for the family. I really do." 

Officials say Rivera is a Sayreville School District employee.

Counselors and therapists will be at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School, where the boy was a student, on Monday when students return from spring break. 

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