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Menifee missing boy: Hundreds continue to search

July 9, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
Searchers in the Menifee area say they're not giving up hope in finding a missing 11-year-old boy with autism.

Terry Smith Jr. was last seen at his family's home in the 33000 block of Helen Lane three days ago. With temperatures in the triple digits, search-and-rescue teams are hoping that the boy at least found some water and shade.

Yelling and stomping their feet to scare away potential snakes, hundreds of volunteers forged ahead into thick brush, not far from Smith's home. It's an area that residents considered too difficult to search on foot before Tuesday. But this is the third day that Smith has been missing, and people say they now have no choice.

"There is a lot more urgency today," said search coordinator Bill Gillette. "Yesterday it was OK, we think we're going to find him. It wasn't that he's been gone for 65-70 hours. He has been gone that long now, so we're coming down to the point where we have to find him now."

Smith has autism, and even though he's 11, he functions at a 7-year-old level. Although he might not respond to people yelling his name, volunteers are trying everything.

Meanwhile, as hundreds of civilian volunteers continue their search, the professional search effort by the Riverside County Sheriff's Department also grows. Besides widening their search to cover 81 square miles, deputies are also going door-to-door, checking even the insides of homes in the boy's neighborhood.

Smith was reported missing Sunday morning. Officials believe he wandered away from his home sometime Saturday night. Right now, there is no suspicion of foul play, but it hasn't been ruled out. Eyewitness News asked the sheriff's department about the chances that Smith might have been kidnapped.

"There is always that possibility. We're looking at all possibilities in this investigation," said Riverside County Sheriff's Capt. John Hill.

It's something the boy's family, including his aunt, doesn't want to think about.

"I can't say any of us go through a day without tears and big lumps in our throat, but ultimately we just want to get him home," said Tracy Armato.

Smith, who responds to the name "JuJu" has blond-sandy hair and brown eyes. He is 4 feet 8 inches tall, weighs 76 pounds and was last seen wearing blue basketball shorts.

Anyone with information was asked to contact the Riverside County Sheriff's Department at (951) 776-1099.


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