Cops released images of three men after the toddler was injured after a substance was thrown towards him as he sat in his pram at Home Bargains in Worcester yesterday afternoon.
Witnesses to the horror scene described seeing a woman crying and being comforted by police officers, as another claimed a "skinny white guy" fled the shop after the attack.
The attack on the young boy has been described as "pure evil" by City Council Leader Marc Bayliss.
Police said the boy was taken to hospital where he is being treated for serious burns to his arm and face.
The incident occurred at around 2.15pm in Home Bargains on Shrub Hill Retail Park, Tallow Hill, Worcester.
Chief Superintendent Mark Travis said: "At this time we are treating this as a deliberate attack on a three-year-old boy."
He told Sky News: "A young family were out shopping and a substance appears to either have been thrown or sprayed towards a three-year-old child who was in a pushchair.
"The child has now been released from hospital, he is back home with his family.
"He has burns to his face and to one of his arms – at the moment we are uncertain about the long term implications of those burns but we do hope that these won't be life-changing injuries."
He continued: "We're looking for three males who were in the store just after 2.15pm yesterday, and the males had walked through the store and were seen to be in very close proximity to the little boy who was in his push chair.
"They left the store shortly after the incident heading off down towards Worcester city, and we're keen to speak to anyone who knows where they went to, who they might be or may have seen anything discarded within the area."
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A staff member from a nearby hardware store said: "I heard about it this morning from some of my colleagues and it's just disgusting. They told me he was covered in some kind of spray.
"You would just never expect it here, this is Worcester, it's a pretty small place. Police have been in asking if we saw anything and if they can check our CCTV. How someone could target a child is just shocking."
The busy Shrub Hill Retail Park was filled with families and children as they enjoy the start of their summer holidays but parents shared their concerns after the horrific attack.
One couple with a newborn baby said: "How someone could do this is just heartless. As parents, we just couldn't imagine if that was our own child. We have just been inside the store and we both said how we felt a little nervous and on edge. I hope the little boy is okay."
A local licensee, Donna Bird, who runs a city centre pub, said: "It's sickening to think that someone would do this, let alone to a three-year-old defenseless child. Nowhere is safe anymore. To think that this happened when you're going shopping or just going out about your normal day.
"I hope he makes a full recovery, must be heartbreaking for his parents."
Rachel Bryant, 22, said: "I'd been shopping with my mum and were heading to Home Bargains when there were loads of police and ambulances. I saw a woman crying and being comforted by police. I didn't know what it was all about.
"When I heard about the little boy being attacked with acid I couldn't believe it. I assume the woman I saw could have been his mum or relative. It's horrendous to think something like this could happen to a little boy in the middle of a shop on a Saturday afternoon."
A 39-year-old man from Wolverhampton has been arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit grievous bodily harm and remains in police custody.
Police officers were seen scouring bins and looking under cars today as they searched for the container which was used in the acid attack.
Shocked shoppers have described seeing police cars and ambulances dashing to the shop where the three-year-old boy was attacked.
Another shopper, who did not want to be named, said: "I heard from someone who works at the shop that the man [who attacked the boy] was a skinny white guy. He was about 5ft 11ins and he ran out the shop. I think he was caught pretty quick but I don't know for sure."
Home Bargains shopper Barry Keville, 64, said: "It's diabolical. You hear about it in other towns and cities, we think that's not close to home but when it's this close to home it's quite frightening as you use the shop."
Dean Carey, 22, assistant manager at the store, said: "Events happened yesterday, police knew what happened and we are working with them.
"Everything is fine, everything is nice and safe for everyone, the staff are all fine. The incident happened but now we have moved on."
The store's area manager, who did not want to be named, added: "We put the health and safety of our staff and customers at the forefront before anything else "
Chief Superintendent Travis urged social media user to share the appeal "far and wide" in a bid to catch the three wanted men captured on CCTV.
He tweeted: "Really nasty crime this.. these men are very distinctive… they clearly from behaviour know each other well…. if you know them please let us know. Please. Share far and wide. RTs not likes please."
Worcester MP Robin Walker said: "The shock will be universal. Anyone conducting such an attack on a small child is just appalling.
"It's an issue which rightly there has been a lot of concern in Parliament and a move to toughen sentences for any kind of acid attack.
"But particularly the nature of this being a small child is very concerning indeed.
"At this stage the key thing is for the police to act quickly and see if they can track down the perpetrator and understand what's behind it, because it is an unthinkable thing to happen."
Worcester City Council leader Marc Bayliss said the attack was "absolutely pure evil" and added: "Worcester is not that sort of place. We are a quintessential small English city.
"I have never heard of an acid attack in Worcester so this is absolutely not something we have any experience of.
"If anybody knows anything about this I would urge them to come forward – think if this was a member of your family, an innocent child, a three-year-old probably scarred or damaged for life by this."
Chief Supt Travis added: "The incident will rightly shock the local community and I would like to reassure local people that we are carrying out a thorough investigation to identify those responsible.
"At this time, the motive for the attack is unclear. Officers are working hard to establish exactly what happened and what the substance involved was.
"The three men in the photo may have information vital to our investigation. I am sure someone will recognise them and I would urge anyone with information to contact us as a matter of urgency."
He added: "We need to bring the perpetrators to justice, and quickly."
Anyone with information that could help police with their enquiries should call 999 quoting incident 442s of 21 July 2018.
Alternatively, information can be provided anonymously to the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
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