Search continues for Phelps County teen missing since July

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ST. JAMES - Family and friends of missing autistic teen Johnathan Shay, 13, along with advocacy groups, continued their search and rescue efforts Saturday. 

Shay was last seen in the 10,000 block of County Road 3470 around 7:30 p.m. on July 9 with a friend, 11-year-old Xavier Baylor. Baylor was found the next day near the Dry Fork Creek in St. James. Officials said they believe the boys walked away from the residence. 

Laura Wylesky, a Lebanon resident who runs the advocacy group "Justice In Name Of," has been part of the search efforts. She said the group expected searchers to converge from all over the state, including volunteers from St. Louis, Columbia and Jefferson City. 

Wylesky said there have been numerous misconceptions surrounding the case, including the idea that the 13-year-old is a "runaway." Wylesky said she believes the child is in danger. 

"Fact is, Johnathan Shay is a missing endangered child living with autism," she said. "He wandered off, that's what children do with autism. He's not a runaway and we need to find him."

Wylesky said searchers still hold hope that Johnathan is alive. 

"As many searches that have happened since he's went missing, between the detectives and other ones that have come in and since we've come in, nobody's found anything, not clothing, not shoes, not a shirt, not nothing," she said. "You can't sit and just say something just happened to him out in the woods anymore."

Wylesky called on the community to step up and help the search efforts. 

"Where is everybody? Why aren't we raising some noise for Johnathan?" she said. 

Wylesky said her group is working with state legislators to introduce a bill to create a system similar to AMBER or Silver alerts that would alert the public of missing special needs children. She said Shay's family plans to organize search and rescue efforts every two weeks. 

The Phelps County Sheriff's Department asked anyone with information to call Central Communications at (573) 308-1213.

(Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional information.)