Hundreds of people gathered at a vigil on Thursday evening to honour a toddler who went missing in a river near Orangeville on Wednesday morning.

A recovery mission began after police believe a three-year-old boy – identified by several sources as Kaden Young – was swept away by a fast-moving current after his mother’s van slipped into the Grand River, located about 30 kilometres west of Orangeville.

Police told reporters Wednesday that the incident occurred shortly before 1 a.m.

On Thursday evening nearby residents gathered at the scene to light candles and place flowers in honour of the missing toddler.

Catherine Pearson, the organizer of the vigil, told CP24 she wanted to hold this gathering for those who wanted to help the family during this difficult time.

“I’ve been out searching myself knowing that I probably wouldn’t be able to do very much on my own and this morning as the helicopters were going over I just kept thinking there has got to be something I can do and I thought we need to get everybody together and bring that strength and love and let the family know that they are supported,” she said.

“There were hundreds of people here and it was an unbelievable, beautiful turnout.”

An antdee of the vigil on Thursday night told CP24 the community where this took place is very close.

“I think we’re all here for the same reason – we are a community and everybody’s children is everybody’s children,” Wendy Blant said. “This is just a tragedy that touches everyone’s heart and if we can come together like this to support each other I think it’s wonderful.”

“I just pray that the little man is found so the family will get some closure.”

On Wednesday morning, a resident called 911 after reportedly seeing headlights bobbing out of the Grand River.

Const. Paul Nancekivell said the driver of a minivan went past a roadblock on a street adjacent to the river when her vehicle went into the water.

Police said the female driver managed to get out of the vehicle carrying her three-year-old son but she lost her grip and the child was swept away down the river.

The woman was taken to hospital to be treated for hypothermia and has since been released.

After exhaustive search efforts on Wednesday, her son was not located.

The minivan was found downstream underneath a bridge and was removed from the body of water on Wednesday afternoon.

The child was not found inside the vehicle.

Police told CP24 on Thursday afternoon a child’s T-shirt and booster seat were located in the river. However, officers said they do not believe the child was wearing that T-shirt at the time of the crash.

Elevated water levels due to heavy rainfall over the past few days resulted in overflowing banks along the Grand River.

Police also previously said that fog would have created visibility issues for drivers in the area at the time of the incident.

The search for the boy was suspended on Wednesday evening but resumed Thursday morning.

“The water has gone down tremendously, it’s dropped probably four or five feet so we are hoping it will expose a lot more shoreline so we can see. We also have our OPP emergency response team so we will be searching both sides of the Grand River,” Nancekivell said.

He noted that crews have narrowed down their search area to a 10 to 15 kilometre stretch of the river.

“We have a hydroelectric dam at Belwood Lake and it has a grate across it so we are thinking he won’t be able to go past that if he was pushed down the river that far,” Nancekivell said.

An OPP helicopter is providing support to ground crews searching for the little boy.

“(The helicopter has) a tremendously powerful camera,” Nancekivell said. “If they see something suspicious they can zoom in and have a look and then we have our ground crews there that can make it to that scene.”

He added that the operation has now switched to a recovery operation.

“We are over 24 hours. (There is a) very slim chance that the young lad would survive that long in that cold, cold water,” Nancekivell said.

“Our whole goal today is to bring an end to this tragedy and bring some closure to the family.”

The tragedy has shaken the small community near Grand Valley. At the local grocery store, staff have set up a donation box to help the family.

Area resident Arletta Husom says Kaden often came into the store with his mother. She described him as a “bubbly boy” who was always smiling.

On Thursday afternoon, the boy’s father and more than a dozen family members conducted their own search along the river. They’ve asked for privacy as they deal with the devastating ordeal.