A volunteer rescue organization said on Wednesday that it will sue the mother of an 11-year-old boy who was reported missing in eastern China’s Zhejiang province in late November, according to Beijing Youth Daily. Less than a week after the boy’s disappearance, police announced that he had been found at a relative’s home and that his mother had crafted a “missing child” hoax to test her husband’s love.
Lai Zhongliu, the head of Sanjiaozhou — a volunteer rescue squad in Yueqing, Zhejiang province — told the newspaper that the incident had left his team feeling disillusioned and had damaged social trust. Lai said the team now intends to file a civil lawsuit against the 33-year-old mother, surnamed Chen: To make restitution, the organization wants the family to thank and apologize to the volunteers who participated in the search and rescue operation, in addition to paying 1 yuan ($0.15) in damages — a common symbolic gesture in the Chinese legal system.
Lai explained that his rescue squad had used boats and professional equipment to search the region’s rivers after the parents expressed fears that their son might have fallen into a “fast-flowing river.” The organization also sent a team to search the surrounding land.
“The motivation of our volunteers has taken a hit,” Lai told Beijing Youth Daily. “Some have said they’ll start by searching the house the next time something like this happens.”
After Chen reported her son missing on Nov. 30, the ensuing search operation attracted nationwide attention. On Dec. 4, the father, surnamed Huang, offered a reward of half a million yuan ($72,000) to whoever located his son. But the next day, police announced that the boy had been found staying with a relative living nearby, and that Chen had fabricated the disappearance as a means of testing whether her husband cared for her and the boy.
On Dec. 5, Yueqing’s public security bureau detained Chen on suspicion of fabricating and deliberately spreading false information — an offense commonly invoked against those who spread online rumors. According to China’s criminal law, she could be sentenced to between three and seven years in prison if charged and found guilty. The case is still under investigation.
After the police revealed that the disappearance had been a hoax, the family broke off all communication with the search and rescue organizations involved, blocking their members’ phone numbers and social media accounts.
Zheng Baihong, the contact person in the search for Chen’s son and the head of a local nonprofit that helps find missing people, told Beijing Youth Daily that he has received numerous phone calls from people berating him for wasting their time. “Because of the trust people have in us, we probably had over 1,000 volunteers participating in the search,” he said. “But now, because of this farce, our credibility has drastically declined and can only be regained slowly through the work we will do in the future.”
Editor: David Paulk.
(Header image: Police officers stand outside the home of the boy who was reported missing in Yueqing, Zhejiang province, Dec. 5, 2018. Jiang Chao/VCG)