The Dominion Post

Fear to joy in hunt for Axle

- Brittany Keogh and Georgia-May Gilbertson

As the white Holden ute bringing 3-year-old Tolaga Bay boy Axle home crawls up the gravel driveway, the toddler’s mum rushes over to meet it, her hand covering her mouth like she can hardly believe the sight.

The woman in the front passenger seat, with the little blond boy in her lap, slowly opens the door. Axle’s mum stretches out her arms to scoop up her son and cradle him to her chest.

After a night filled with worry, Axle’s mother is overwhelme­d with emotion. Her glasses fog up with tears as she nuzzles her head into Axle’s shoulder. His dad wraps his arms around both of them, wiping away his own tears.

Dozens of people who stand at the edges of the driveway clap when the parents are finally reunited with Axle, who had gone missing from the family home in Paroa Rd 22 hours earlier, about 12.30pm on Tuesday.

Axle had been playing outside with the family’s small white dog, called Bro, when his mum last saw him. Believing he was with another person on a different part of their farm, it took his parents a while to realise he was gone, Gisborne police Inspector Sam Aberahama said last night.

‘‘When they found out that noone had him in their care, bang, they started searching the property. That took time.’’

Axle’s family searched the buildings on the property. When they found no trace of him, they called the police.

The dog returned home alone later that afternoon, sparking fears for Axle’s safety.

Shinae Twist, a close friend of Axle’s mum, said his mum was ‘‘beside herself’’.

Hundreds of people combed 100 hectares of nearby farmland and bush for the boy, who was wearing only a blue shirt with palm trees on it, a nappy and blue gumboots with sharks on them.

Police officers, volunteers, friends and wha¯nau were all out looking for him.

The search effort was carefully planned and co-ordinated ‘‘so that we were sure we had covered areas as well as we could’’, Aberahama said.

‘‘There were people coming from the community left, right and centre ... Everyone wanted to [help]. If they couldn’t offer to search, they were offering food.’’

A police helicopter with an infrared camera was used, along with police dogs. As the sun went down, and there was still with no sign of Axle, those searching for

him became increasing­ly concerned. ‘‘We were losing light. Everything was against us because of the time we were informed,’’ Aberahama said.

Axle’s father, who did not want to be named, saying he was a private man, said at times he had feared the worst.

‘‘I didn’t think it was going to be a good ending. There were more than 300 people searching in the end – people were checking the rivers.’’

Axle’s older brother Harry was among those who were out looking for him. ‘‘I just couldn’t eat knowing he was out there,’’ he said.

Residents of Tolaga Bay left teddy bears and blankets at their front doors overnight in the hope of enticing Axle out of the dark.

People were out searching again at first light yesterday.

Local woman Lisa Riki said volunteers from Gisborne flooded into the small town in the morning and many locals opted to search instead of going to work, leaving the community ‘‘pretty empty’’.

About 10.45am came the news everyone had been hoping for: Axle had been found alive and well. Axle’s first words to the man who found him, Peter Hughes, were ‘‘I lost my mum’’.

‘‘He came out of the grass, little blond hair and blue gumboots. He was crying and kept saying ‘I lost my mum’. I said ‘Well bro I found your mum, so you come with me, and I’ll take you to your mum,’’’ Hughes said. Hughes had been scouring the riverbank, before deciding to head up a forestry track, about three kilometres from Axle’s home, when he heard a child’s voice and then spotted the toddler. When Hughes reunited Axle with his family ‘‘my heart came to my stomach and tears came to my eyes’’. Twist said Axle’s mum was ecstatic that her son had been found.

‘‘It’s been the worst 24 hours of her life ... He’d fallen down a bank. He said he was trying to find his mum.’’

Axle later told his dad he had been ‘‘sleeping with the rabbits’’.

A nurse checked Axle after he was found and he was taken to Gisborne Hospital for another checkup and was assessed to be ‘‘in good shape’’.

 ??  ??
 ??  ?? Three-year-old Axle is reunited with his mother while his father looks on, after being missing overnight for 22 hours. Below is the area Axle was lost in around Tolaga Bay. His house is in the lower right of the picture and he was found in the upper left of shot.
Three-year-old Axle is reunited with his mother while his father looks on, after being missing overnight for 22 hours. Below is the area Axle was lost in around Tolaga Bay. His house is in the lower right of the picture and he was found in the upper left of shot.
 ??  ?? Damon Jeffery with Bro, the dog who went off with Axle.
Damon Jeffery with Bro, the dog who went off with Axle.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand