The family of a 16-year-old missing from Aberdeen for three months “are being realistic about the challenges around finding him” as the search operation is scaled back.
Liam Smith was reported missing on Sunday November 18 having last been seen in Queen’s Road, Aberdeen, the previous day.
CCTV showed him at Union Square later on the Saturday afternoon when he boarded a 202 Stagecoach bus for Aberdeenshire at 1.11pm.
He bought a ticket for Raemoir Road in Banchory but a fellow passenger reported him getting off at Crathes.
Despite police receiving more than 200 reports of sightings, no trace has been made of the teenager as officers conclude their searches in Crathes.
In a statement issued through Police Scotland, the family asked for privacy in what has been an “incredibly difficult time”.
The statement said: “We have been overwhelmed by the support from members of the public and the communities of the north-east.
“While we are very grateful to everyone who has contacted us with good intentions and offers to help, we would respectfully request that we are now not directly contacted and that our privacy is respected.
“Understandably it has been a highly stressful and emotional time since Liam left home and as a family we are struggling to come to terms with his disappearance.
“With this in mind, we ask that all new information is directed to the police and not the family.”
Specialist resources including the police helicopter, search dogs, search advisers and the dive and marine unit have been used in the last three months while looking for Liam.
The teenager’s belongings have not been found despite areas of water, woodland, fields and farmland being searched.
His family said the 16-year-old was not feeling himself at the time of his disappearance and urged anyone feeling similar to speak to someone.
The statement added: “We recognise that many people have been personally affected by this and have created messages to share online in order to raise awareness of Liam’s disappearance, which is something we appreciate greatly.
“We are extremely grateful to the police and those who have supported their inquiries including the mountain rescue teams of Braemar and Aberdeen.
“We know that the information available to them has been fully investigated and that extensive searches have been carried out.
“While we continue to hope that Liam will be found, we are being realistic about the challenges around finding him.
“We believe that Liam wasn’t feeling himself at the time he went missing and we would encourage any teenager who is feeling overwhelmed to speak to someone about their feelings.”
Chief Inspector Martin Mackay thanked the public for their support, particularly from the Crathes and Banchory areas.
He added: “Extensive enquiries and intelligence-led searches have been carried out, which has been challenging due to the difficult terrain.
“Reviews of the enquiry have been carried out and will continue as is standard with any long-term missing person investigation. At this stage we continue to search but that will be scaled back over the next few days as we conclude the activity at Crathes.
“The investigation will remain open and any new information will be thoroughly reviewed and assessed.
“More than 200 sightings of Liam have been reported to us and every bit of information we have received we have followed up.
“However, our enquiries still suggest Liam would have travelled to the Crathes area and we urge anyone, particularly residents or those who work in this area, to remain vigilant and report anything unusual to us.
“We remain in contact with Liam’s family and will keep them updated.”