- Parents of Yamato Tanooka initially told police boy had got lost during hike
- A two-day search of a mountain range on Hokkaido involved 150 rescuers
- But the parents then admitted they had left the boy there as punishment
- They said they returned to the spot ‘immediately’ but he had disappeared
A seven-year-old boy is still missing in a Japanese mountain range populated by bears – three days after his parents left him there as punishment during a family hike.
But after a second day of searches, involving 150 rescuers, the parents admitted they lied and that they had left him there to teach him a lesson.
They claimed that they returned to the spot where they left him ‘immediately’ but the boy was no longer there.
Tanooka was reported missing on Saturday sparking a major search and rescue operation.
Yamato, his older sister, mother and father came to a park near the forest on Saturday, but the parents became angry as the boy threw stones at cars and people, Japanese police and media reports said.
On the way back home, they made Yamato get out of the car and left him alone in the forest, driving the car about 500 metres away, TV Asahi and other reports said.
‘They said they went back to the site immediately but the boy was no longer there,’ a local police spokesman earlier told AFP.
Some 180 rescuers and police officers widened the search area on Monday, mobilising sniffer dogs and horses to go deeper into the woodlands, NTV footage showed.
‘I feel very sorry for my child,’ the father told an NTV reporter. ‘I am so sorry for causing trouble for many people.’
Japanese public opinion reacted with outrage at the actions of the parents.
‘This is not punishment but abuse!’ one Twitter post read.
‘The parents are so stupid that I am speechless,’ said another.
Many also worried about the fate of the child in the forest alone and reportedly with no food or water as heavy rain fell overnight.
Mitsuru Wakayama, a spokesman for the local town of Nanae, said the mountainous area is a place that only local residents pass through occasionally as a short-cut.
‘Not many people or cars pass by, and it gets totally dark as there are no lights,’ Wakayama said.
‘It’s not surprising to encounter bears anywhere in the area.’