KANSAS CITY, Missouri — Authorities in southern Missouri searching a wooded area for a 13-year-old boy with autism who went missing a week ago said Thursday that the teen indicated to a relative that he doesn't want to be found.
Phelps County Sheriff Department Sgt. George Arnold said Johnathan Shay and an 11-year-old relative had been playing in the yard of their grandmother's house in the St. James area when they disappeared July 9 after making plans to run away. The younger boy was found the next day walking along a creek. St. James is about 200 miles southeast of Kansas City.
"The information we had was that they split up and that the boy, Johnathan, made it clear that he wasn't going home and wasn't going to be found," Arnold said. "With that we have reason to believe he has purposely decided to stay running."
The Missouri State Highway Patrol, local law enforcement and community members have helped in the search, which has employed a helicopter, divers, search dogs and night-vision goggles. Arnold said the National Center For Missing and Exploited Children joined the effort Monday, sending two people to help investigators and the boy's family.
The National Weather Service said temperatures in the area have reached the low- to mid-90s, with humidity levels that have made it feel like it was nearly 100 degrees.
"It has been extremely hot and dangerous," Arnold said. "We would say the elements would certainly be hazardous for him and for the searchers."
Arnold said sightings of the teen have been investigated but none have been verified. He said the boy, whom he described as "high-functioning autistic," had run away before but was always found within about 12 hours.
"But in this particular case, we believe he ran away and has full intentions of not coming back," Arnold said, adding that the boy liked reading survival books and was into war video games.
Robert Lowery, vice president of the missing children division of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said the longer the child is gone "heightens that concern."
"Six days by himself is a good reason to be cause for concern," Lowery said. "There's a lot of scenarios here. But it's important that we not give up hope."
The missing boy's mother, Melissa Perkins, told KMOV-TV that, "The way it's looking now is that he's looking at it as a game he's trying to see how long he can stay out there before somebody finds him or he has to come back." Perkins' phone rang unanswered when the AP called seeking comment.
Arnold said crews were focused Thursday in and along the creek that the younger boy was wandering along when he was found. Around said infrared technology and night-vision goggles were used Wednesday night to search the woods.
"This kid is not, he's not afraid of outside," Arnold said. "It's not like a small child who wandered off into the woods and is totally lost."
Complicating the search is the terrain. The boys disappeared from an area less than 10 miles away from Meramec State Park,
"It's a heavily wooded area, pretty hilly," Sgt. Cody Fulkerson, of the patrol, said. "It's hard to spot anyone from the air because it's so thick."