Three Harford County boys, missing since March 26 in what authorities said began as a Tom Sawyer kind of adventure, were found dead yesterday morning floating on the river where they vanished.

The bodies of Stephen Hicks, 13, Frederick Stevens, 11, Scott McGothlin, 12, all of Edgewood, Md., were pulled from the Bush River at about 6:30 a.m. yesterday by a commercial fisherman making his early morning rounds. The 70-year-old fisherman, Francis Gunther of Willoughby Beach, said he was pursuing his usual route for perch and rockfish when he noticed one body.

"All the fisherman have been keeping a pretty sharp eye out," said Gunther, of a community-wide search for the boys.

Bodies of the other two were found within a few hundred yards of the first, authorities said. All were discovered less than a mile from where the boys were thought to have taken a canoe for an afternoon adventure.

The state medical examiner ruled yesterday afternoon that the cause of death for the youths was accidental drowning, according to Harford County deputy sheriff Jordan Watts. Watts said that hundreds of people in the Edgewood community participated in the search for the three boys, all of whom required daily medication, when their disappearance gradually became known.

The last time any of the boys was seen was Friday afternoon, March 26, when Scott McGlothlin told his mother he was going to Stephen Hicks' house and would be back in 15 minutes.

On Saturday, March 27, a local man reported the disappearance of his green canoe, but its connection to the boys did not become apparent until the boat was recovered by an Aberdeen game warden the following week. As state police, sheriffs, marine police and volunteer firemen combed the woods, swamps and water for signs of the trio, two bikes, two fishing rods, a pair of gloves and a Hush Puppy shoe were all that turned up, Watts said. All were found near where the boat disappeared. Meanwhile, schoolchildren and some adults began to flood police with over 200 reported sightings and claims of suspicious activity.

The rumors were fueled by police speculation, developed from interviews with the boys' classmates and teachers, that the boys were acting out some kind of Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn adventure. "One teacher said that one of the boys was extremely intrigued with the idea of Tom Sawyer," whom he had just studied in class, said Watts. At the same time, parental concern for their safety was acute, since none appeared to have taken their daily medicine with them. Hicks was an epileptic, Stevens was hyperactive and McGlothlin suffered from depression.

For Scott McGothlin's family, tragedy was compounded when his stepfather, Danny Keith Duncan, committed suicide April 11. Authorities said Duncan, 33, had been depressed over family problems.

Authorities said the boys apparently embarked on what seemed a lighthearted prank. "You know for young boys, there's nothing more fascinating than railroad tracks and a body of water," said fisherman Gunther.

In fact, said sheriff's detective Watts, "Earlier in the day they disappeared, we had a report of other kids on the river on a raft they had made. They climbed on a railroad crossing and got out okay. Just hooking school.