It’s a story that yet again proves truth is often stranger than fiction: According to multiple outlets, a 7-year-old boy has reportedly been missing for four days in a bear-infested forest in Northern Japan, after his parents left him there without food or water as punishment. Yes, you read that right — his own parents left him in the woods to teach him a lesson.
I will give you a moment to catch your breath right now, because it’s pretty unbelievable.
The Associated Foreign Press reports that young Yamato Tanooka had been throwing stones at cars and people during a family trip last Saturday. On the way home, his parents reportedly stopped the car, told the boy to get out, and drove 550 yards away. When they returned, he was gone; though it remains unclear just how long the parents waited before returning to the site.
According to the AFP, the parents originally told police Yamato became lost while the family was hiking to gather wild vegetables, but later admitted to the unconventional (and cruel?) punishment.
“They said they went back to the site immediately, but the boy was no longer there,” a local police spokesman told AFP.
The search was widened on Tuesday to include about 200 civilian rescuers and police officers, 75 members of Japan’s military, and sniffer dogs and horses. A local hunter was also consulted for assistance after fresh bear tracks were found in the area where the boy vanished on Saturday, according to Jiji news agency.
“I couldn’t bring myself to say it was to discipline him … and then ask the police to search for him,” the boy’s father, 44-year-old Takayuki Tanooka, told UPI. “I want to apologize to my son, also for causing trouble for so many people.”
Unsurprisingly, many people in Japan have strongly criticized the parents for their unusual brand of “punishment,” calling it abuse. According to the Kyodo News Agency, police have also said they are considering filing neglect charges against the boy’s parents.
As the mother of two young boys myself, I worry when I simply let my 9-year-old ride his bike to school alone or when I allow my 6-year-old ride to his bike around the block unsupervised. So needless to say, it’s pretty hard for me to imagine ever leaving a child completely and utterly alone in the middle of a forest as punishment. But I will avoid getting on the bandwagon of public shaming and criticism because, honestly, I imagine the pain of dealing with a lost child is punishment enough.More On