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ST. LOUIS COUNTY — Sixteen years after a disabled 9-year-old boy disappeared, prosecutors in St. Louis County have charged his father in the child’s presumed death.

Prosecutors say Dawan Ferguson caused the death of his son, Christian, in 2003. On Thursday, they charged Ferguson, 46, with one count of first-degree murder. He was being held without bail.

Ferguson was taken into custody at his home in the 10100 block of Pannell Drive in the Castlepoint area of north St. Louis County.

The boy’s body has never been found, though he has long been presumed dead.

Christian had a rare disorder that prevented his body from processing protein. He couldn’t walk or talk. He would have died within 48 hours without proper medication, court documents say.

The probable cause statement said Dawan Ferguson, who had full custody of his son, failed to provide Christian with proper medication and nutrition from Jan. 16, 2001, through June 18, 2003. On June 11, he left his home in Pine Lawn with Christian, and Christian was never seen again.

It is not immediately clear what led prosecutors to charge the boy’s father now.

At a news conference Friday afternoon, St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell would not say what led his office to charge Ferguson this week. He said his office has been reviewing this case for “several weeks” and working with current and former city detectives and county police. St. Louis Police Chief John Hayden and St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar joined Bell at the press conference.

Bell said when elected that he was determined “to look at cases with a fresh set of eyes, and this is a case where we feel the evidence compelled us to seek justice for Christian, and that’s what we’re gonna do.”

Also present was Christian’s mother, Theda Person, formerly known as Theda Wilson. She said she was “totally overwhelmed” by the news of the charges and feeling a mix of emotions.

“I knew that justice was on its way, but I’m in shock,” she said. “I feel supported and I’m excited. I’m a lot of different things right now because I don’t know how to be in this place, but I’m glad that I’m here.”

Defense lawyer John Rogers, who previously represented Dawan Ferguson, said he has spoken to him but has not been retained. He said he is unaware of any new evidence in the case since former prosecutor Robert McCulloch’s office declined to charge Ferguson years ago.

“I anticipate that any competent defense attorney will challenge the authority of Mr. Bell to prosecute this case at this time,” Rogers said.

Although Christian was reported missing in the city, Dawan Ferguson is being charged in St. Louis County because St. Louis prosecutors years ago said they had a conflict.

With the passage of time since the boy’s disappearance, prosecutors, believing Dawan Ferguson caused Christian Ferguson’s death, could only charge him with murder because that charge has no statute of limitations. Most other felonies except for rape and sodomy have a three-year statute of limitations.

{span style=”background-color: #ffffff;”}Just after 6 a.m. on June 11, 2003, Dawan Ferguson called 911 from a pay phone at Page and Skinker boulevards. The father told police he had stopped to make a call and a carjacker drove off with his maroon 1999 Ford Expedition with Christian inside. He told police his son was wearing a diaper and was wrapped in a red and blue blanket.

Ferguson — who at the time had been fighting his ex-wife for custody of their two sons — soon drew suspicions of police, starting with inconsistencies surrounding his 911 call:

• The SUV was found later that day about five miles from the intersection in St. Louis where Dawan Ferguson reported his son missing. A resident of a cul-de-sac in the city of Ferguson told police she had seen the SUV parked there for hours, including around the time of the 911 call .

• Dawan Ferguson had a cellphone with him when he used the pay phone to report the alleged carjacking.

• A TV news video revealed that a car belonging to a close friend of Ferguson was parked near the pay phone at Skinker and Page shortly after the 911 call. That friend lived several blocks from the cul-de-sac on Ronbar Lane in Ferguson, where the SUV was recovered about two hours later without Christian inside.

Officers searched the area with dogs but found no sign of the boy. Police twice searched Dawan Ferguson’s rental home in Pine Lawn.

On the day of the boy’s disappearance, Dawan Ferguson cut short a police interview, refused to take a lie detector test and stopped cooperating.

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With a search warrant, detectives and FBI agents seized dozens of items from his home, including shovels, a posthole digger, a pitchfork, bedding and stained clothing.

Dawan Ferguson, who was then a bounty hunter, later had private detectives search his home to remove anything that might have value as evidence.

Through an attorney, he previously denied involvement in his son’s disappearance.

Police and the FBI worked the case for years but leads eventually dried up, and the case went cold. In 2007, St. Louis police formed a task force focused solely on Christian’s case, but nothing came of it.

Years passed, but Christian’s mother held out hope for a break in the case. Person held annual walks to publicize his disappearance and to inspire people to report abuse and neglect.

In 2012, Person told the Post-Dispatch that her quest to find Christian and other missing children in the region had consumed her life.

“When I’m not doing anything, that’s when it really bothers me,” she said. “I’m forever changed by this. This is the only thing I want to do because it’s important.”

Dawan Ferguson has 2004 felony convictions of bank and Social Security fraud that sent him to federal prison for eight months.

According to court records, Ferguson’s wife of 18 years filed for divorce Sept. 16, claiming in court documents that he sexually abused two of her relatives for years, and fathered a child by one of them. She also got a protection order against him.

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