FAWNSKIN, Calif. – After combing the San Bernardino Mountains (search) for nine days, authorities have called off a search for a 9-year-old boy who wandered away from his parents while camping and never returned.
David Gonzales (search ) vanished July 31 when his mother said she gave him the keys to the family truck so he could go for some cookies.
Volunteers and deputies on foot and horseback, in helicopters, boats and all-terrain vehicles scoured the rocky pine and cedar forest area on the edge of Big Bear Lake (search ), but by Sunday hadn't found any trace of Gonzalez and decided to end the search.
"We have disbanded the search at this point," San Bernardino County sheriff's spokesman Chip Patterson told The Associated Press late Sunday afternoon.
Members of the boy's family hugged searchers about 4 p.m. before getting into a van and heading back to their home in Lake Elsinore.
"They're completely devastated," said Cindy Beavers, San Bernardino County sheriff's spokeswoman. "We still believe that David walked off into the forest and became lost."
David's mother, Rosenda, had told deputies she saw a beige truck speeding away from the Hanna Flat Campground about the time her son disappeared, but authorities said they found no evidence he was abducted. They also said there was no evidence to indicate he'd been attacked by a mountain lion or other large animal.
For more than a week they'd held out hope that he simply lost his direction in the forest. Although the terrain is rugged, temperatures in the area have been mild and they said it was likely the boy could have survived for several days.
David, who is small for his age at 3-feet-10 and 52 pounds, was reported to have been dressed in sweat pants, a T-shirt and sneakers when he disappeared. He apparently never made it to his family's truck, as it was still locked and the cookies still inside when his parents discovered him missing.
Patterson said deputies would search the area from time to time, although they have little hope at this point David is alive.
"As time allows and personnel are available they'll go in here, probably on the weekends, and keep searching, especially with dogs," he said. "It also serves as training missions for those people who are learning how to do it and for the dogs to keep practicing so that they're in shape for the next search."