Missing autistic boy, 14, found dead in Aussie bush after search volunteers turned away by cops over coronavirus fears

Missing autistic boy, 14, found dead in Aussie bush after search volunteers turned away by cops over coronavirus fears

September 23, 2020

AN autistic boy lost in the Australian bush has been found dead – after cops turned away volunteers because of a coronavirus curfew.

More than 50 locals gathered hoping to help rescuers scour the countryside east of Melbourne for missing William Wall, 14.

But police told them to go home, asking them to spread the word on social media instead of searching the walking trails.

Today more than 30 hours after he went missing, William was found dead at Yarra Junction.

Victoria police said: “His death is not being treated as suspicious and police will prepare a report for the coroner.

“Police would like to thank the media and all those involved in the search.”

William, a keen runner with high functioning autism, left his home in Launching Place at 6.45am on Tuesday.

He told his family he was going for a jog and would be back in 15 minutes.

Dad Shane Wall said he may have become disoriented without food or his phone.

He said earlier on Wednesday: “It’s absolutely the first time he’s got lost.

“He’s a kid that sticks to himself, does all his school work, so this is really out of the ordinary.”


Police said more than 100 emergency services workers spent the night searching in dense bush 30 miles east of Melbourne.

As temperatures dropped to 7C, they called out “William, can you hear us” in the hope he would be drawn to their voices.

Frustrated locals who know the terrain said they were stopped from joining the search because of a ban on going more than three miles from home.

William's older brothers spent Tuesday night searching alongside rescuers but were stopped from doing the same the next morning.

Harrison Wall, 18, said: "We've been told by all the police we're not allowed to help because we're beyond the 5km radius, which is going to put more of a delay in finding him."

A group of 50 more volunteers met at Warburton police station only to be ordered home.

One man said the decision was “bulls***” and a larger volunteer force had more chance of finding William, reported the Herald Sun.

Georgia Strahan said she would search anyway and risk a fine from police.

She said: “I know the area, and I can’t just go and sit at home and do nothing.

“I’m happy to cop a fine if it means saving or finding him. If that was my kid I would want people to do the same.”

Cops posted a message on Facebook thanking locals for their offers of help, but added: "In line with coronavirus restrictions, at this stage we do not require any assistance from the public."

State premier Daniel Andrews was asked if police turned down offers of help because of the Covid lockdown including an 8pm curfew.

He said: “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.”

He added: “It's difficult to congregate in large groups at the moment”.

Victoria police denied volunteers were turned away because of coronavirus, saying they didn't want people heading out blindly into the rough terrain in “quite treacherous, wet and slippery” conditions.

Police inspector Jason Goddard also said it was "not to do with Covid".

But he also said 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.


Shadow minister for police David Southwick said community volunteers were vital to the success of the search.

He said before William was found dead: “While our police and emergency services perform an excellent job in cases such as these, residents with invaluable local knowledge must be allowed to assist.”

Angry locals suggested William could have been saved.

One said on Twitter: "Poor autistic 14 year old William Wall died alone, disorientated, hungry & cold.

"Volunteers who knew the area were turned away. Dan Andrews mentioned not wanting people to congregate in crowds.

"Last time an autistic child was lost in the bush, a volunteer found him ALIVE!!"

In June, 14-year-old Will Callaghan – who has non-verbal autism – was found safe after two nights alone on Mount Disappointment.

More than 300 volunteers joined that search after Will became separated from his family on a hike north of Melbourne.

Sweeping restrictions on people's movements have been imposed after a spike in infections in Victoria.

Residents in the Melbourne area have been told to stay indoors except for work.

They are allowed out for food shopping and daily exercise within three miles of their homes.

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