A four-year-old boy who drowned in his grandparents’ swimming pool Thursday was a loving, free-spirited child who simply “left for a moment” and then was nowhere to be found, his aunt says.

Nicholas Baker was to start school in the fall, according to the aunt, Janina Drozdowski.

“He was very outgoing, very free-spirited,” she said Thursday. “He loved his family more than anything.”

Police say Nicholas was reported missing from his grandparents’ home in Elmsvale, near Middle Musquodoboit, about 80 kilometres northwest of Halifax, shortly before 10 p.m. Wednesday.

Police said officers and a ground search and rescue crew scoured the area for the boy and found him in the pool at around 2 a.m. Thursday.

‘He loved it out there’

Drozdowski said Nicholas lives with his parents, Danielle and John Baker in Dartmouth, but the boy loved the outdoors and spent a lot of time at his father’s parents’ house.

“They preferred him in the country because it was safer than the city,” she said. “He loved it out there.”

RCMP Cpl. Jadie Spence said the pool where Baker was eventually found was checked during an initial search by RCMP members, but there was a layer of “dark, scum-like film” on the surface and it didn’t look like it had been disturbed.

“The pool was later on searched by a member of ground search and rescue shortly after 2 a.m. with some kind of specialized equipment that they had and that’s when the child was located at the bottom of the pool,” said Spence.

Investigators said his death is not considered suspicious, but an autopsy would be conducted Thursday.

Drozdowski said the pool is enclosed by a fence, but that a door may have inadvertently been left open.

She said Nicholas was adored by his grandparents.

“He left for a moment and before they knew it, he was nowhere to be found,” said Drozdowski. “Everything happened so fast, I can’t believe there’s really anything that could have been done to prevent it.”

Crowd-funding campaign

Drozdowski has turned to the GoFundMe crowdfunding site to seek $10,000 for the boy’s funeral and other expenses.

“He loved monster trucks and recently went to the Monster Truck Rally with his family, and he enjoyed riding his bike much like his mother did at his age. He was looking forward to starting primary in the fall and showed so much potential,” Drozdowski said in the posting.

Nicholas’ mother, who also has an older daughter, had just quit her job at a Halifax hotel to begin training as a flight attendant, while his father works as a roofer, Drozdowski said.

The house where Nicholas died is hidden by trees down a long driveway off a two-lane highway that carves through the rolling farmland of the Musquodoboit Valley.

Most homes in the area are older farmhouses, surrounded by trees and lush, green hills. Residents said it gets warm and humid there, and it’s not unusual for people to have swimming pools.

‘Just can’t believe it’

The death was a devastating outcome for neighbours.

“I heard it on the radio and you just can’t believe it. It’s hard to believe,” said an older woman who refused to give her name.

She said she didn’t know the boy but knows his grandparents, who she described as good neighbours. “They don’t bother anyone.”

Hans Dittert said he learned about the tragedy, which took place just up the road from his home, on the morning news.

“It’s not right,” he said, adding that although the boy’s grandparents have lived in the area for a long time, he knows them only to say hello.

Another local resident who declined to give her name, said the sad news had her thinking about her own nine grandchildren.