- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 27, 2011

DOSWELL, Va. Hundreds of volunteers returned to a rural stretch of central Virginia on Thursday to join officials in a search through tall weeds and bramble for an 8-year-old autistic boy missing since Sunday.

“I’ve been up the last three nights thinking about him,” said Kim Taylor, a volunteer from Hanover County, where the search entered its sixth day. “It just makes you sick.”

Robert Wood Jr. wandered away from his family during a hike in the North Anna Battlefield Park.

The boy was last seen about 150 yards from the North Anna River, said Capt. Mike Trice, spokesman for the Hanover County Sheriff’s Office.

Officials sent home most of the estimated 1,200 volunteer searchers before sunset, but expert teams were to continue looking throughout the evening with night-vision goggles and sniffer dogs. They also said they think the boy is still alive and have not declared the search a recovery effort.

“If a child goes missing, we never stop looking,” Capt. Trice said.

Still, searchers have yet to get a solid lead on where the boy might be. They said none of the survival packs left by rescuers had been touched and that rescue efforts were especially difficult because calls to the child likely would send him deeper into the woods.

Officials expand their original, 2.5-mile search radius Thursday by an additional mile.

Volunteer searchers said as night fell that each hour becomes more critical because the boy is not dressed for the weather. And temperatures were expected to drop into the 30s overnight with snow forecast this weekend in parts of the mid-Atlantic.

“There’s a lot of little creeks and streams, swamp areas and primitive woods that, except for hunters, people haven’t seen in a decade,” said Hanover resident Lorre Hyatt, 59, upon returning from the search. “It’s just an awful thought. But if that was any one of our children, I’d like to think the community would respond.”

Crews also looked in the river, wading in shallow parts and paddling kayaks in deeper sections. Capt. Trice said divers were also part of the water search.

The headquarters for the search is being moved to a nearby fairground from the Kings Dominion amusement park, which now needs room for Halloween-related events.

Despite the impending move, the afternoon was bustling with searchers, trained before being sent into the wilderness wearing bright yellow vests.

A table loaded with bug spray and antibacterial soap stood ready for those heading back into the field, while several tents shaded stacks of pizza boxes, styrofoam take-out containers and coffee cartons for those returning from the early shifts.

Businesses were donating large amounts of food and water, as were neighbors who wanted to be a part of the search.

“People have just been phenomenal,” said Carolyn Coutts, a Caroline County resident in charge of the food distribution. “There wasn’t a second thought. If it was any child, we would be here.”

Roughly 300 volunteers were trained but not need. They are expected to return Friday, should the search continue, to relieve those searching for the past several days.

Officials created a two-part training process to ensure volunteers were searching in the correct way and not getting lost themselves.

Renee Marion of Cumberland, Md., took off work and allowed daughter Cheyenne, 17, to skip school so she could volunteer.

She said a young nephew also has autism so they understand the worry of a lost child with special needs.

“When he’s gotten lost, you yell and he won’t come,” Ms. Marion said.

The missing boy has blond hair, blue eyes and was last seen wearing a red, long-sleeved T-shirt, blue pants and blue shoes.

Capt. Trice said the searches are conducted on 12-hour shifts. Though there are plans to work through the weekend, at this point the search is highlighting areas where officials determined there’s a “high probability” Robert might be.

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