The parents of Chase Martens, the two-year-old boy who has been missing in rural Manitoba since Tuesday, sobbed as they pleaded for any information that could help bring their son home.
"Chase has vanished without a trace. We are looking for answers, for any information that can help bring our son home," his father, Thomas Martens, said in a short statement Thursday afternoon as the boy's mother, Destiny Turner, leaned on his shoulder and wept.
"Anyone with information, please find it in your hearts to do the right thing and come forward. Any information is helpful."
He added, "If someone has our son, please bring him home. We won't be angry. We will be forgiving and grateful."
His voice breaking, Martens continued, "We are devastated to have our son taken from us."
Drone, underwater team join search
Earlier on Thursday, RCMP added a drone and an underwater recovery team to the search for the toddler.
The latest developments came after searchers persisted through another cold night in rural Manitoba on Wednesday, using flashlights to look through fields and tangled brush for the boy.
The search area has more than doubled in size to 3.5 square kilometres on Thursday from an area of 1.5 square kilometres on Wednesday.
Most of the farm fields, wooded areas and shorelines have now been walked through, which leaves mostly bodies of water to be explored, said Manitoba RCMP spokesman Sgt. Bert Paquet.
The drone will also be able to survey areas where searchers can't reach, he added.
Paquet said the RCMP remain hopeful that Chase will be found safe, but admitted that time is working against them.
"We are talking about one-and-a-half days now in some challenging conditions," Paquet said.
Disappeared Tuesday evening
The toddler vanished Tuesday evening from his farm home near the community of Austin, which is 120 kilometres west of Winnipeg, between Brandon and Portage la Prairie.
Paquet has said that Chase was last seen by his mother, playing outside the family home at about 6 p.m. that day, and then "he was just not there anymore."
The blue-eyed, brown-haired boy was last seen wearing a blue jacket, black splash pants, a red hat and boots that light up as he walks.
The temperature in the area dropped to –12 C that first night. On Wednesday night, it went down to –5 C overnight but the wind made it feel more like –11.
Rain is expected on Thursday evening. Two or three centimetres of snow are also in the forecast.
"We are aware of the potential scenarios that we are facing, but we are not giving up hope," said Paquet.
"We also have to keep in mind that we've seen miracles before, and we're definitely hoping for one in this case as well."
Paquet said he was not aware of any piece of evidence being found, despite hundreds of searchers closely combing the land.
'Keep Chase in your thoughts, is what we are asking people to do. The entire country right now is thinking about this little boy.' - RCMP Sgt. Bert Paquet
While foul play has not been ruled out, it is not the focal point of the investigation, he added.
"Our focus is to locate Chase," Paquet said, adding that police have not issued an Amber Alert because one of the requirements for such an alert is a confirmed sighting of the missing person.
That has not happened yet for Chase.
Paquet urged people to contact police if they have any tips and to "pray."
"Keep Chase in your thoughts, is what we are asking people to do. The entire country right now is thinking about this little boy," he said.
There are hundreds of people in the search party, including police, military, firefighters, volunteers, Winnipeg's Bear Clan Patrol and others.
"[This is] a parent's worst nightmare, to lose a little kid, and my heart goes out to the family of that little toddler," said Bear Clan member Darryl Contois. "I've been on a number of searches in the bush, and I'm very good in the bush so I offered my services to come out here to help.
"He could be under brush, he could be wrapped up somewhere, you know. It's cold out here, and you know that a little toddler can go anywhere and get into anything.
"And who knows how far he can walk? When you're cold you do anything — you try to find shelter, you try to find this and that — and if you're lost in the bush, he's just two years old, he doesn't know where to go."
The Bear Clan Patrol has been described as a volunteer group that aims to stop fights, keep an eye on sex-trade workers and find a way to get people who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol to safety.
Also among the searchers were a Portage la Prairie, Man., couple who know all too well how it feels to wonder where their child went.
Wilfred and Bernice Catcheway said it's important to show support for Chase's family.
"It's hard as a parent," Wilfred Catcheway said. "My wife is here, and she was crying on the way here for the people, for the parents. It's not easy. But this is a crucial time. This is the time where you've got to search all over."
Jennifer Catcheway went missing on June 18, 2008. She had phoned her mother earlier in the day to say she was heading home to Portage la Prairie to celebrate her 18th birthday with family. She never arrived. Her family has conducted several searches for her since then.