People wanting to help search for a missing boy in dense Victorian bushland have been told by police to stay away.
A group of about 50 gathered at the Warburton police station east of Melbourne on Wednesday morning, wanting to volunteer.
But Victoria Police told them to go home and help instead by spreading word on social media.
William Wall, 14, left his Launching Place home before 7am on Tuesday to go for his daily walk in the Yarra Ranges.
The teenager told his family he would be gone for 15 minutes but didn’t return.
William, who has high-functioning autism and is verbal, left home without his mobile phone.
The local weather deteriorated on Wednesday, with rain falling.
Earlier on Wednesday, Inspector Jason Goddard said search organisers were trying to work out how to factor in the state’s coronavirus restrictions.
“We live in different times. We have to be very conscious of the COVID overlay with all this planning,” he told 3AW radio.
Police are urging locals to check their homes and outbuildings.
The air and ground search involves police, including some on horseback, as well as the State Emergency Service and Bush Search and Rescue.
William’s father was emotional on Wednesday as he thanked the search effort.
“I just want him home. I just want to get him home,” Shane Wall said.
“The police, the SES are doing a top job, and people are getting out there and heaps of his mates and his brother’s mates are just all over the place.”
Searchers have been concentrating on the Warburton Rail Trail, which runs about 40km from Lilydale to Warburton and covers difficult terrain, and the O’Shannassy Aqueduct Trail above Warburton.
William is described as 177cm tall, with a lean build, mousy brown hair and a lazy right eye.
His family said he was wearing a dark hooded jumper, dark-coloured track pants, black runners and had a CamelBak hydration backpack.
William’s disappearance comes three months after another teenage boy with non-verbal autism was rescued after two nights in freezing bushland near Mt Disappointment.
William Callaghan, 14, was found by local bushman Ben Gibbs. He was suffering from exposure and a few injuries but otherwise well.