It was supposed to be a form of punishment, a particularly harsh and memorable kind.
But by the time Yamato Tanooka's parents came looking for him after intentionally abandoning the 7-year-old in the woods in northern Japan for several minutes, the boy was missing.
“The parents left the boy in the mountains as punishment,” a police spokesman told the Japan Times. “They said they went back to the site immediately, but the boy was no longer there.”
Hokkaido police said the child went missing around 4 p.m. (3 a.m. Eastern time) on Saturday, according to CNN. Two hours later, the network reported, the boy's parents called police and told them that the child had disappeared on a day trip while the family scavenged for wild vegetables.
Takayuki Tanooka, the boy's 44-year-old father, eventually admitted that the family's story was fabricated and that the boy had actually been left behind as punishment for throwing rocks at cars along a road in the area, the Times reported. He told a local reporter that he could not initially admit to authorities what he had done, according to the paper.
"I was not able to ask for [a search] with a reason of punishment," he told TV Asahi, according to CNN. "I thought it might be taken as a domestic violence."
Police said a search party of more than 150 police officers and firefighters have been looking for the boy — who was wearing navy shorts, a black pullover and red sneakers at the time of his disappearance, according to CNN.
Video footage shows dozens of searchers tramping through dense forest and thick foliage while a helicopter buzzes overheard, according to Agence France-Presse. Overnight, AFP reported, rescuers moved through the search zone holding torches and calling out the boy's name.
"I feel very sorry for my child," the father told an NTV reporter. "I am so sorry for causing trouble for many people."
The area where the child was last seen is home to wild bears, according to the Times.
Mitsuru Wakayama, a spokesman for the nearby town of Nanae, told the Times that the area — near Nanae-cho, on Hokkaido, in the northern part of Japan — is used as a short cut by locals but not often because of how precarious it can become.
“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."
Police are still deciding whether the parents will face charges related to child abandonment, but many critics are calling for the parents to face repercussions, according to the Times.
The Associated Press reported that the boy's father expressed remorse in an interview with the public broadcaster NHK and other TV stations: “I regret what I did to my child,” he said.