Madrid: Some 1,000 police, firefighters and volunteers searched on Saturday for an eight-year-old boy whose disappearance four days previously in southeastern Spain has gripped the country.
Gabriel Cruz was at his grandmother's home in the small village of Las Hortichuelas when he left to go play at a friend's house nearby on Tuesday afternoon. He has not been seen since.
His relatives alerted police who published a missing person's alert with a photo of the smiling boy, which went viral in Spain via mobile messaging services and social media.
Since then, police and volunteers have been combing the countryside in the area on foot and on horseback, using helicopters and drones to try and locate him.
On Saturday, around 1,000 people were involved in the search, a Guardia Civil police spokesman told AFP.
Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido said police were also searching waters off the coast nearby.
Cruz's parents have given several tearful interviews to Spanish media, saying he knew the area well and could not have got lost.
We maintain "hope we will get Gabriel back soon and that he will return home with his family, which is where a boy who is only eight should be," his father Angel Cruz told reporters Saturday, before breaking down in tears.
In a twist on Friday, it emerged that a man had been detained this week for stalking Gabriel's mother Patricia Ramirez, though authorities stressed he was not held in connection with the disappearance.
The man, named as Diego Miguel, had become "obsessed" with Ramirez and in 2016 was ordered by a judge to stay away from her and given a three-month suspended jail sentence, according to court documents seen by AFP.
But he broke this order several times, including in the hours when Gabriel disappeared, and was detained, authorities said.
Police said they were investigating the circumstances, but Angel Cruz stressed Saturday he believed the man had nothing to do with his son's disappearance.