Police in northern China launched a massive search Wednesday for a woman accused of gouging out the eyes of a 6-year-old boy.
Authorities in the city of Linfen in Shanxi province offered a 100,000 yuan ($16,000) reward for the woman’s capture, according to the Associated Press.
The AFP news agency reported the boy, surnamed Guo, went missing while playing outside, Chinese media reported.
“He asks why the sky is always dark ... and why the dawn still hasn't come," the AFP quoted an uncle of the boy as saying. “We could only tell him that his eyes had some injury and have to be bandaged. It is such a difficult question to explain to him. It is the most heartbreaking thing.”
Police did not say if they had identified a suspect -- and the boy said only that the woman spoke with an accent from outside the area, the AP reported. State media said the boy was recovering in a hospital, but had lost his sight permanently following the brutal ordeal Saturday.
A police officer who only gave his surname, Liu, said he couldn't speculate on a motive because the investigation was continuing, according to the AP.
“We are sparing no efforts trying to solve this case,” he added.
Liu said the boy’s eyeballs were found at the scene and that the corneas hadn't been removed.
State media previously raised the possibility that the boy’s corneas were taken for sale because of a donor shortage in China, reports the AP. But police said Wednesday the corneas had been found attached to the eyeballs and ruled out organ sales as a motive, although they were unable to provide an alternative explanation for the attack, according to the AFP.
A news report on a provincial TV channel showed the boy writhing in pain on a hospital trolley, with bandages around his head, and his parents -- both farmers -- crying.
The Beijing Times newspaper quoted the parents of the boy as saying that their son had told them he was walking along a path when he was grabbed by a woman. She used an unspecified tool to gouge out his eyes, reports the AP.
No suspects had been detained by late Wednesday afternoon, domestic media said.
A video posted online Tuesday showed the boy -- who had a cleft palate -- writhing in agony on a hospital bed. Pictures posted online Wednesday showed him still heavily bandaged, apparently in less acute pain, according to the AFP.
The brutal attack has shocked Internet users in China, who offered sympathy for the boy and demanded retribution against his attacker on the country’s hugely popular microblogs.
His plight was the most searched news story on Sina Weibo, China's version of Twitter, on Wednesday, reports the AFP.
“This poor child, he must be suffering more than if he was dead and he has to live in darkness forever,” said one poster reports the AFP. “We have to capture the criminal!”