Robert Larson is an unlikely hero.
By his own admission, he’s been a bar room brawler, a heavy drinker and a pothead.
But in the spring of 2013, Larson, 49, spent 30 days scouring a swollen Des Plaines River looking for the body of 1-year-old Bryeon Hunter.
His mother and her boyfriend were charged with beating Bryeon to death. His lifeless body was stuffed in a backpack and tossed into the river.
When a torrential downpour caused flooding in the area, all but one searcher gave up.
“I went right down in the river in my street clothes. I was bound and determined to find that boy. Nobody gave a rat’s ass about that poor little black child,” said Larson in a recent interview.
On May 15, 2013, Larson located Bryeon’s remains lodged in river debris near 1st Avenue and 31st in Riverside.
For a brief while, Larson was celebrated in the media as a hero. The Village of Maywood formally honored him with a plaque and a standing ovation to thank him for his persistence.
But the same day Larson discovered Bryeon’s body, he said he was evicted from his Westchester home. He is now living in a storage locker in the western suburbs.
“I went from hero to homeless,” Larson told me.
State Rep. Chris Welch (D-Maywood) said he tried to help Larson by referring him to West Suburban PADS in Maywood. But Larson balked because the organization does not allow non-service dogs.
“He came to my office a couple of different times. I set him up with Rock of Ages Vision of Restoration and they put him up for four months. What did he do for those four months?” he asked.
After his successful recovery of Bryeon, Larson formed K-9 Specialties, a for-profit search and rescue company. Since then, he has participated in several out-of-town searches, including that of Carrie Olson in Davenport, Iowa.
Olson had been missing for about a month when her body turned up in a field. Her boyfriend was charged with the murder.
Larson contacted the Olson family after learning about her disappearance on Facebook. The local newspaper reported that a car dealership donated a cargo van to bring Larson and his dogs to Davenport.
However, not everyone thinks Larson is acting out of the goodness of his heart.
“He is not what he says he is,” said a woman who called me and declined to give her name, but claimed to be part of a search and rescue dog organization.
“He did find that little boy. But the thing with him is he is a fraud. He doesn’t have any certification. He kayaked up and down the river for 30 days and found that baby and good for him. Anybody can go out looking a body, but he is soliciting money,” the woman said.
Larson also has had run-ins with the Westchester Police Department over his two dogs.
“I wouldn’t use his services,” said John M. Carpino, Westchester’s police chief.
“He has got this one dog as his rescue dog, and he thinks the dog can walk on water and part the seas. We have our own K-9 units. Everybody in the world has to keep dogs on a leash and somehow he thinks he is exempt,” Carpino added.
But Larson dismisses the criticism as sour grapes. He admits, however, that a search and rescue group did not certify him.
“Then I’d have to sit and wait for law enforcement to call me. I broke the Golden Rule because I went out looking for Bryeon on my own,” he said.
Unfortunately, the discovery of little Bryeon’s body brought little closure to his family given the circumstances surrounding his tragic death.
It apparently brought Larson little closure as well.