That decision was met with disappointment, with one man saying, “there is a kid out there, the more people looking the better”.
Another woman agreed, saying: “Some of us have grown up in this area our whole lives”.
Inspector Jason Goddard, the local area commander for the Yarra Ranges, said the search had been scaled up on Wednesday.
“We’ve got a far larger contingent of police on the ground at the moment … in excess of 100 people supporting the search.”
He said the search was covering a 10-kilometre radius around the tracks within the Warburton area, which is where police have had several reported sightings of William.
Inspector Goddard said volunteers were not needed at the moment.
“We are professionals at dealing with searches. This is not an uncommon occurrence for us to search for people. And in this area here, we do often have people go missing. We are comfortable with the resourcing that we do have in place at the moment.”
Helicopters, horses, motorbikes and 4WDs are being used in the search.
‘A decent-sized kid’
Mr Wall said that William loves exercise and is a “decent sized kid who is very energetic, very athletic”, and believes his son could run 25 to 30 kilometres.
“He’s high-functioning so on the outside he seems normal … with him, with the exercise regime, once the body sugars start dropping, that’s when it becomes more irrational.”
Locals have been leaving food on the trails and Mr Wall said his son wasn’t a fan of junk food.
“Lollies and that – he doesn’t like the junk food, he prefers protein bars, fruit, that type of thing. He would go straight for that.”
Anyone who approaches William should be calm, he said.
“Just be calm, just probably say that his mum wants to talk to him. He responds a bit better than coming to me … just in a calm voice, ‘We have some health food bars for you mate, come and get them, they’re yours.”
William, who wants to be in the police or the army, has a younger sister and two older brothers.
His father said William loves dogs and will likely approach people if they have their dogs with them on a lead.
‘It’s not to do with COVID’
Late on Tuesday night, local police took to Facebook to inform locals they weren’t needed in the search because of the coronavirus.
“In line with coronavirus restrictions, at this stage we do not require any assistance from the public,” a post on the Yarra Ranges Police Service Facebook page read.
Inspector Goddard clarified the police position on Wednesday
“This is not to do with COVID,” he said.
“We don’t want to bring this into a COVID conversation. What we are doing is focusing our search on Will.
“If the resourcing we have on the ground here and deployed today is not adequate we will ask for more resources and I have no doubt we will get what we need in order to conduct this search.”
He said police would continually assess the situation through the day.
“We are very much hopeful we will find him,” Inspector Goddard said.
“We are appealing to the community for all those eyes and ears out there to help us find him,” he said, urging people to share the message on social media.
Premier Daniel Andrews didn’t comment when asked on Wednesday morning if police should have told locals not to turn out to search for William.
“I’ve got no advice that says the rules have impeded the amazing work being done as we speak and hopefully they find him soon,” Mr Andrews said
At a heated briefing for would-be searchers in Warburton early on Wednesday morning, police asked residents to keep an eye out for William and to share the word on social media but said that members of the public were not needed as part of the co-ordinated search.
One officer said the bush was “quite treacherous” and the wet and slippery conditions could lead to injuries.
“We aren’t going to let the public down or the family,” he said.
Police said they understood people wanted to help but reassured them that they had many trained professionals searching.
After the briefing, local Peta McMillan Kelly said she was “dumbfounded” by the decision which was disheartening for locals, some of whom had waited for instructions in the rain for more than an hour.
She said she would continue to search anyway, using her two hours of exercise to check the tracks and paths in the area that she knows well.
Her daughter Lila, 13, said she would join her mother. “I’m very worried for him,” she said. “If it was me I’d be terrified.”
Karen Duke, from Warburton, who also came to offer her help in the search, said she understood the decision but it was still frustrating.
“We feel a bit useless, we want to help,” she said. “We want to get out there and help this family.”
‘People around here are fantastic’
William is described as 177 centimetres tall, with a lean build and mousy brown hair. He has a lazy right eye.
His family said he was last seen wearing a dark hooded jumper, dark-coloured track pants, black runners and had a hydration pack across his chest. He left his mobile phone at home.
This if the first time he has gone missing and it’s “so much out of character”, said his father, who thanked the police, the SES and all the locals for their support.
“Police and SES, his brothers’ mates, have all been out all night. I just want everyone to be safe,” Mr Wall said.
“I never wanted to be in this situation but people around here are fantastic. I’ve been in the valley for a long time but this has just blown me away, the support from local people … it’s fantastic.
“There’s obviously motorbikes and we have switched to pushbikes as well so you can hear calling out or crying. And outbuildings on the properties, if you don’t mind, I really appreciate it, just have a look around.”
Anyone who sees William or with information is urged to contact Mooroolbark police station on 9725 9999.
Simone is a crime reporter for The Age. Most recently she covered breaking news for The Age, and before that for The Australian in Melbourne.
Rachael Dexter is a breaking news reporter at The Age.