The mother of a three-year-old boy who sparked a massive, 12-hour search in horrendous weather conditions through thick bushland in the State’s South West has opened up about the dreadful ordeal, saying she felt “hopeless” thinking about her little boy braving the cold in nothing but his Spiderman pyjamas.
Speaking to media outside the Karli Way holiday home in the locality of Wyadup this morning, Michelle Buckley confessed she had lost hope of ever seeing James “Jimmy” O’Reilly again.
“I think once it started getting to sunset, I was really starting to panic because I didn’t want him to be out there during the night being such a windy and rainy day. He would have been freezing,” she said.
Crying, the mother-of-two said she started to lose hope once nightfall approached.
“I was just losing hope, I honestly thought we were gonna … find him dead,” she said emotionally.
“I didn’t think I was going to find him alive, I thought I was going to have to bury my son.”
“It was a really really long day – I couldn’t do anything, I was told to stay here (at the holiday house), I couldn’t go out and look for him or anything … I felt hopeless, like I couldn’t do anything.”
Her partner and Jimmy’s dad, Chris O’Reilly, said the “terrible” weather had hampered his hopes as well.
“It was terrible condition the weather was about nine degrees outside, it was raining and hail. When that hail came in, it just made it times-ten what I was going through even worse,” he said.
“It was a seriously happy – happiest ending that I think anyone could have asked for in a situation like that.”
Jimmy and his family arrived back at their Airbnb after a night at Busselton Health Campus about 9am today.
The family were escorted out of the hospital by one police crew, who followed them on their way to the Yallingup property for several minutes before turning back.
Jimmy wandered into the bush surrounding the Airbnb property while his mum was feeding her other son – a 10-month-old baby boy named Henry. Jimmy was last seen outside the holiday accommodation about 7.30am, wearing nothing but his white Spiderman pyjamas and a pair of dark blue wellington boots.
The last time Ms Buckley saw Jimmy, he was playing with the family’s two dogs.
More than 12 hours later, after scores of SES crews, neighbours and members of the close-knit community swarmed the area to join the frantic search, little Jimmy was found.
The boy was discovered by his grandad and uncle about 1km from where he vanished, and in the same direction search crews had looked earlier in the day after discovering a tiny footprint.
But after failing to locate the boy, crews turned their attention south – where the thick scrub and rough terrain carries on downhill.
The decision was made based on experiences from past searches.
Police said typically, when a child gets lost in the bush, they tend to find shelter, hide, or walk downhill.
But Jimmy seemed to favour the path less travelled, picking an uphill climb over what would have surely been an easier trek.
The little champ was found by his grandfather Paul and uncle John who had rushed down from Perth to join the search earlier in the day just minutes before the miracle discovery.
“Chris’s grandad got here, and literally five minutes after he arrived, Chris’s mum came running up the stairs saying they found him,” Ms Buckley said.
“So it was his uncle John and poppy Paul that found him and also my friends Kylie and Rod – they went out in their car to go on the four-wheel-drive tracks and just look for him and they happened to be in the same spot as John and Paul were in.
“They put him in the car and brought him back to us. We brought him inside, took off his pyjamas and wrapped him up in a blanket.
“He was smiling, talking to (his baby brother) and he said ‘I went out into the bush’, and it was just the most beautiful moment.
“I’m so thankful. There was a lot of emotion going on, everyone was crying and laughing.”
Before Jimmy was found about 7pm yesterday, his grandad had been repeatedly calling out his name – “James O’Reilly!” – near a firebreak to the north east of the holiday accomodation, which had been checked earlier in the day.
Moments later, Jimmy answered his “poppy’s” desperate calls.
The good news prompted thousands of people across WA, all who had been following news updates all day, to congratulate Jimmy’s family and friends and breathe a combined sigh of relief.
It also brought on a loud “Whoop!” at the Incident Command Centre some 4km from the Airbnb, as dozens of volunteer search crews cheered at the news of Jimmy’s safe return.
Earlier in the day, a drone was used to fly over the canopies of forest on all sides of the property in an attempt to find Jimmy.
It broadcast a recorded message from Jimmy’s mum, in which she said: “Hi James, it’s Mummy. If you can see something flying in the air above you and it’s got flashing red and blue lights, you need to follow it, OK. Then you can find your way home”.
As darkness settled in this evening the fears for Jimmy were about the weather and the dangers of hypothermia, with hail, rain and a wind chill of zero degrees just some of the conditions both Jimmy and searchers had to endure.
Some locals also voiced concern about snakes at this time of year.
As darkness fell on the densely forested spot near Yallingup, locals who’d spent all day frantically looking for the toddler in atrocious weather — including hail — grew more concerned, their spirits as dampened as their clothes.
The scenes around the house were frantic. Neighbour Eamonn McGrath, who lives a mere 100m from where Jimmy vanished, woke to the sound of screams.
“The boy’s dad was yelling and yelling ‘Jimmy! Jimmy!’ At first I thought he was calling his dogs, but then something changed in his voice, and he was screaming.
“He just kept screaming. I couldn’t see him but I could hear him. And the mum was just distraught.”
Mr McGrath was the first member of the public on scene and alerted the rest of the street.
Within half an hour a swathe of neighbours swarmed Karli Rise and began scouring dense bushland.
Today’s search grew in size during the morning, with scores of people arriving to help in any way.
State Emergency Service crews scoured 10sqkm of ground from morning to dusk.
“The terrain around the holiday home is very thick, dense bush and very difficult for people to walk through,” Insp. Voyez said.
They were assisted from above by Police Air Wing, which includes the helicopter and drone. Local police forces, Busselton Detectives, the Canine Section and Mounted Police from Perth all pitched in.
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