Search continues for missing autistic boy

The search for an autistic boy in rural Cape Breton has been doubly difficult because the child can’t speak and the weather has been brutal, a police spokeswoman said Sunday as the desperate hunt entered its second night.

Firefighters Craig MacNeil

SOUTH BAR, N.S. — The search for an autistic boy in rural Cape Breton has been doubly difficult because the child can’t speak and the weather has been brutal, a police spokeswoman said Sunday as the desperate hunt entered its second night.

Police and scores of volunteers started searching a marshy, wooded area in South Bar, about 10 kilometres north of Sydney, on Saturday afternoon shortly after seven-year-old James Delorey was first reported missing.

The little boy wandered away from his home around 2 p.m. while following the family dog.

Hours later, a snowstorm enveloped much of Atlantic Canada, dumping up to 15 centimetres of snow in some areas.

A rescue helicopter arrived at the scene late Saturday, but it was grounded all day Sunday as the storm thrashed the island with heavy, wet snow and winds gusting at 70 kilometres per hour.

More than 200 people were searching the bush, local properties and the east side of Sydney harbour.

They failed to turn up any clues on the weekend.

The search area is confined to an area that stretches only four kilometres from where James was last seen, said Diseree Vassallo, spokeswoman for Cape Breton Regional Police.

“The search will continue throughout the night,” she said. “More search and rescue members from Halifax are expected to join the search at first light Monday morning.”

The Cormorant helicopter, dispatched from Canadian Forces Base Greenwood, resumed flying late Sunday night when the snow finally stopped.

The chopper is equipped with night-vision goggles.

Vassallo said searchers were deeply concerned about the boy’s safety, mainly because he can’t call for help.

“It’s an added concern when looking for him,” she said.

A parent of an autistic child who is helping with the search confirmed that some autistic children are prone to wandering off — and James has run away before.

As well, police confirmed the boy was not wearing a winter coat, hat or mittens.

The temperature held steady at 3 C for most of Saturday night but it dipped to 0 C on Sunday morning as the wind picked up and then dropped again to -2 C by Sunday night.

“The time and the weather are big concerns for us,” Vassallo said earlier.

Unconfirmed media reports suggested the boy had a habit of slipping into neighbours’ homes undetected.

Local residents were being asked to check their yards and sheds.

“Check anything,” Vassallo told the Cape Breton Post. “If there’s anything in their yards, like an overturned boat that’s stored or a shed that might be open, or anywhere that he could be hiding.”

Sydney firefighter Raymond Abbass said the wind coming off the harbour Sunday cut like a razor.

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