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Hope Running Out as Search Continues for Missing Boy, 9

Rescuers still haven't found any clues in David Gonzales' disappearance from a Big Bear area campsite a week ago.

August 08, 2004|Steve Hymon | Times Staff Writer

A massive search for a 9-year-old boy missing in the San Bernardino Mountains since July 31 continued Saturday, with rescuers using horses, helicopters, dogs and off-road vehicles to comb the area.

But by early evening there was no sign of David Gonzales or any clues found as to his whereabouts. The Lake Elsinore boy had wandered away from his family's campsite.

"So far there's no active tracks today," said Cindy Beavers, a spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department. "It's still a search-and-rescue operation. Hope is dimming, but there is still hope."

More than 260 search-and-rescue personnel from throughout the state, most volunteers, joined the operation Saturday. It was one of the largest such efforts in the Big Bear area in recent memory, authorities said.

Searchers plan to continue raking the area at first light today. If David is not found, a decision is likely to be made tonight whether to scale back the search, Beavers said.

"I know my son is with God," said Jose Gonzales, 40, the boy's father, at a news conference at the search command post in the hamlet of Fawnskin.

"If he wants to take him, take him. If he wants to give him back

Beavers said the last verified sighting of David was by another camper, who saw him walking north on a road in the Hanna Flat campground a little past 8 a.m. July 31. Police began looking for the boy within two hours of his disappearance.

Authorities have said there are no indications that David was abducted or attacked by a wild animal.

The California Department of Fish and Game is attempting to tranquilize a mountain lion seen in the area so that it can test for human DNA under the cat's claws. An agency official said that lion attacks on humans are rare.

Most of the search effort on Saturday concentrated on the one-square-mile area around the campground in terrain that is steep, brushy and sun-beaten. Holcomb Creek, downhill and to the north, still holds water, which some rescuers said David could use to survive.

"We're walking five feet apart for one half-mile up this hill and then walking back down and doing it all day long, sometimes on our hands and knees," said Bill Crews, a searcher and crew boss with the San Bernardino National Forest.

"I still think we'll find him. You have to think that way."

A David Gonzales Search Trust has been set up at Washington Mutual Bank, said Phil Saenz, the pastor of the church that the Gonzales family attends. The fund is to help pay for the family's time away from work, he said.

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