The chief of a northeastern Alberta First Nation asked for prayers Tuesday as he described the widening search for his five-year-old grandson, missing for more than 24 hours.
“What I would like is to pray for this young man and for people to continue to pray for us,” Frog Lake Cree Nation Chief Greg Desjarlais told reporters.
“This young man (young man, I should say) is autistic. He can’t speak, so it’s very difficult for us.”
The Mounties say Jager Cross-Memnook was last seen on Monday around 2:30 pm MT at his home in the First Nation, which is located approximately 260 kilometers northeast of Edmonton.
Police say he is five feet tall, weighs 60 pounds, has pale skin and red hair.
RCMP say the boy was last seen wearing a light blue Nike sweater and Paw Patrol pants.
“Our children are on loan to us, that is our belief,” Desjarlais said. “They are gifts. And this child, many people love him. He has a lot of energy. He has this gift of his own spirit within him.”
He said he is concerned about Jager’s safe return to his family, especially as the prospect of spending a second night alone outside is quickly approaching.
“I can’t imagine this young man at night, you know, having to sleep there alone,” he said. “There are many bears and many animals here. But our faith is always in the Creator and we ask Him to have mercy on us and allow us to continue raising this child here.”
Desjarlais said there are between 250 and 300 people searching for Jager. The searchers include people from about 10 First Nations and Métis settlements, he said, as well as members of the RCMP and others.
“People are tired, but it was good to see last night, midnight, when they asked who wanted to go home and no one wanted to go home,” he said.
“We just want to find him. We want to find him alive. And we want to celebrate his life and help him become an old man.”
Mounties said the search has been assisted by the Edmonton Police Service and Alberta RCMP helicopters, Alberta RCMP police dog services and more than 100 members of the public.
RCMP Sgt. David Graham said there is nothing suspicious about the disappearance, but it is “extremely concerning” that the boy has not been found more than 24 hours after he was reported missing.
“I would say it’s important that we find it sooner rather than later, because the more time goes by, I think the more difficult it becomes,” Graham said. “The area would have to expand more and more as time goes by.”
He said the fact that the child does not speak adds to the difficulty.
“If we call him and he’s hiding somewhere and he’s afraid but he’s not able to verbalize it, we might get by, or the searchers might get by and maybe not see him on the first try or something like that.”
The terrain is remote, with many trees and bushes, many leased roads and some bodies of water, Graham said.
“So, he could have taken many paths, and there’s really no clear indication, that I know of, of which path he took.”
Graham said the search is taking a toll on everyone involved.
“It’s very emotional with the family and the community. I know the community is tight-knit. Even with the [RCMP] As members here, many of us have children, so it can be emotional to search for a lost child like this.”
Any information on Jager’s whereabouts can be directed to the Elk Point RCMP detachment or Crime Stoppers.