A small Ontario town is rallying around a devastated mother whose son slipped from her arms after their vehicle was pulled into fast-flowing floodwaters.

Kaden Young, 3, has been missing since early Wednesday after the minivan his mother was driving suddenly fell into the Grand River near Orangeville, Ont. The river has swelled in recent days due to fast-melting snow and intense rains.

Kaden’s mom grabbed her son and managed to escape the vehicle. The pair was pulled into the river, where police say the mother lost her grip on the toddler. Kaden was swept into the water.

Ontario Provincial Police helicopters patrolled the river by air Thursday in hopes of spotting the boy, who was last seen wearing a blue jacket. Officers continue to search the banks, and family and friends have joined those efforts. However, police say they don’t expect to find Kaden alive.

A candlelight vigil is being held Thursday night beside the river, just a short distance from where the child was pulled into the water.

Arletta Hughson, a friend of Kaden’s mother, described the little boy as “always full of smiles.”

“He loved giving hugs. He was just a pleasure,” said Hughson, who has set up a donation box at a grocery store in Amaranth Township.

“They’re going to need all the help they can get,” she said.

The outpouring of support is reflective of the community’s big-hearted spirit, OPP Const. Paul Nancekivell said.

“This community has really rallied around this tragedy, and it speaks well to a very tight-knit, loving community,” Nancekivell said.

The search began as a rescue effort but has since transitioned to recovery mode, Nancekivell said, because it’s unlikely they’ll find the child alive.

The minivan was recovered later Wednesday, but there was no sign of Kaden. So far, police have found a few items from the van, including a booster seat and a child’s shirt.

The OPP called off their search early Thursday evening. They plan to restart early Friday.

A state of emergency is still in place in Brantford, Ont., a riverside community more than 100 kilometres from where Kaden went missing. About 2,200 homes have been evacuated, affecting about 5,000 people.

With files from CTV Kitchener