After an intense and desperate three-day search in the Australian bushland of New South Wales for autistic three-year-old Anthony “AJ” Elfalak, searchers erupted in laughter and other expressions of joy when he was found.
“Thank you for everyone. Thank you for the government. Thank you for the police. Thank you very much,” AJ’s mother Kelly told Nine News, adding, “Thank you to my friend, my cousin, my sisters, my family. Thank you, everybody and whoever prayed for us,” according to Sept. 6 News.
News of the boy’s disappearance mobilized family, friends, neighbors, and police, and it was thanks to police helicopters that he was located in a deep ravine, drinking water from the creek.
The paramedics reported that except for some scratches and bruises, he was in good health.
“He’s got some nappy rash, he’s been bitten by ants, he’s fallen over—but he’s alive,” said AJ,s father, Anthony.
The area where the toddler was found had been thoroughly searched by the team. “We have searched that area head to toe,” said Anthony, reported ABC News.
Anthony was at his home in the rural area of Putty near Singleton, when he suddenly went missing around noon on Friday, Sept. 3, and how he managed to wander off remains a mystery.
Alan Hashem, AJ’s godfather, said they still had no answers as to how he disappeared.
“I know I was acting frantic, but no one can understand what it’s like going through what we went through. I feel incredible, mate,” he said.
He added: “All that noise just disappears. But we still need to find out what happened. We need answers. This is our little fortress. How did he leave? Who did he leave with? Did anything sinister happen? You know, these are questions that need to still be answered.”
Initially suspecting an abduction, police seized a pickup truck 78 kilometers from the scene, an abandoned house about a kilometer from the boy’s home, and security cameras at the Colo Heights gas station about 40 minutes away.Their investigations into the possibility he had been taken are continuing.
The search team of hundreds of people included officers with mountain bikes, rescue police, the canine unit, police divers, and helicopters, who went to the 260-hectare (650 acre) property.
AJ was taken to Maitland Hospital as a precautionary measure, as he had drunk contaminated water from the creek. He slept for hours, and when he awoke, his condition was reported by special operations team paramedic Gerry Pyke.
“When he woke up all he wanted to do was eat. He got stuck into about three slices of pizza and a banana. So he is pretty good,” Pyke said, according to ABC.
The father shared his anxieties as he realized that after three days of searching, the volunteers would be getting discouraged and soon give up their efforts to find AJ. Also, the conditions were difficult with cold tempartures and rain.
However, for experts, the hope was that the boy would find water, which would significantly increase his chances of survival, given that the biggest enemy was dehydration.
For Mr. Elfalak, kidnapping was the most likely theory to explain the loss of his son: “That’s the only thing I can think of, because he’s always here with us. He loves his swing, he loves to go … with his siblings, and I thought that was the only answer I had,” he said.
What’s more, Elfalak thought about defying the extreme restrictions imposed by the possible spread of the COVID or CCP (Communist Party of China) virus.
“I was going to call 5000 people from Sydney to come up, I don’t care about the COVID, and then she (an SES volunteer) said, we would never give up on a little boy, that’s what I loved to hear, and they didn’t give up,” he said.
He added, “I don’t know how he survived, I thought I was getting a phone call that he passed away, he’s a strong little boy … he was trying to drink from the river. He’s just so strong.”