UPDATE: Since this story was published, Victoria Police confirmed the tragic news that William Wall has been found dead.
Volunteers are angry at having been turned away after offering to help in the search for an autistic teenager missing in Victorian bushland.
William Wall has been missing since before 7am on Tuesday when he left his home in Launching Place, east Melbourne, for his daily walk in the dense bushland of the Yarra Ranges.
A group of about 50 locals gathered at the Warburton police station, east of Melbourne, on Wednesday morning were told by police to go home and instead help officers by spreading word on social media.
The meeting between community members wanting to lend a helping hand and police was tense, according to The Herald Sun.
One man who told the publication the decision was “bulls***” said a larger volunteer crowd leads to a better chance of finding William.
A woman named Peta and her 13-year-old daughter, who were among the crowd of unwanted locals, said they waited an hour before being told to go home.
“It’s disheartening because we’ve all come with good intentions,” she told The Herald Sun, adding that the weather was only getting worse.
Victoria Police told Yahoo News Australia they turned away the help because they have plenty of resources. It was also reported that the wet weather was making conditions dangerous.
SES crews were unable to find the 14-year-old overnight as the weather deteriorated and temperatures dropped to 7 degrees.
William, who has high-functioning autism and is verbal, left home without his mobile phone or food.
Journalists asked Premier Daniel Andrews on Wednesday if the police turned down the help because of the COVID restrictions and the strict 8pm curfew.
Mr Andrews said he “was not sure what advice Victoria Police gave” and directed journalists’ questions to them.
“My understanding was that there may have been some decisions made in relation to COVID safety for instance - I'm only speculating. That's what I was briefed this morning,” Mr Andrews said, adding that it is “difficult to congregate in large groups at the moment”.
Community asked to look out for teen William Wall
Inspector Jason Goddard said the volunteers were not rebuffed because of coronavirus and that the search organisers were trying to work out how to factor in the state's restrictions.
"We live in different times. We have to be very conscious of the COVID overlay with all this planning," he told 3AW radio.
A Victoria Police spokesperson said their “sole focus is to locate William safe and well.”
“Search and Rescue, the Police Airwing, Specialist Solo Unit and local uniform police are being supported by the State Emergency Services and Bush Search and Rescue in our efforts to find him. These groups are highly trained and skilled in coordinating searches for missing people.
“Local community members can play their part by keeping their eyes peeled for someone who matches the description of William.”
MISSING TEEN: A huge number of volunteers and locals have turned out to help search for William Wall missing for 24 hours in the Yarra Ranges. All hands on deck - police airwing, mounted branch and road bikes also been spotted in Warburton this morning #7newsmelb pic.twitter.com/qE5j5Qm5G8— Teegan Dolling (@tdolling) September 23, 2020
Missing teen’s dad praises police
William’s dad Shane Wall praised the police and SES crews during an interview with ABC on Wednesday morning.
He said all of the support was “fantastic”, although he had hoped to never be in such a situation.
“Actual support from local people, the Facebook community and the noticeboards and that, fantastic.
“Top notch and the police and SES, again, it has been great,” he said.
Mr Wall said it is not unusual for William to go exercise for 15 minutes to an hour, but it is “really out of the ordinary” for him to wander off.
People should be calm in their approach if they find him, he said.
“Just probably say that his mum wants to talk to him. Probably responds a bit better than coming to me, most cases,” Mr Wall said.
Offering health food bars, which he said William liked better than lollies, may also help, he said.
Anyone with information is urged to call 000 or contact Mooroolbark Police Station on 9725 9999.
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.