A man who vanished with his three children almost two years ago has been spotted in Bunnings, prompting police to issue a desperate appeal to the public for help.
Tom Phillips, 36, and his three young children Jayda, 10, Maverick, 8, and Ember, 7, were reported missing in late 2021 from their coastal town of Marokopa in New Zealand.
However police have since received reports from the public about the father being seen at Bunnings in Hamilton on Wednesday afternoon.
A photo shows him entering the store in the suburb of Te Rapa with a trolley, masked up and with a beanie on, in attempt to "disguise his appearance".
He was also believed to be driving a stolen 2003 bronze-coloured Toyota Hilux flat-deck ute, which was spotted three times on the same day in Pokuru, Te Rapa, and Kawhia in the north island.
A police helicopter was quickly dispatched to try find him but authorities were ultimately unsuccessful, the NZ Herald reports.
Police focused on bringing children home
Phillips initially disappeared with his children in September 2021, triggering an intensive 14 day search by authorities after his abandoned car was found on a beach during a poor spell of weather.
Police suspended the search after a 12-day operation failed to locate them, before Phillips and the children eventually returned home, having lived in a tent in a dense bush area.
The man was charged with “causing wasteful deployment of police personnel and resources", only to go missing again in December.
Given that the recent information is the "best [they've] received in some time", Inspector Will Loughrin said police are working as hard as they can with the "sole focus of bringing [the children] home", NZ Herald reports.
"Police continue to urge the public to report sightings of this vehicle, as it is the best chance we have to locate Tom and his three children and ensure their welfare," authorities urged on the Waikato Police Facebook page on Friday.
"We are also appealing directly to those in the community who may be helping Tom and the children, to do the right thing and come forward."
'Heartbroken' family in disbelief over father's actions
Since their disappearance, the mother and siblings of the missing children started a group to raise awareness and get the public's help.
"What Tom has done and is doing is wrong. It is selfish, extremely hurtful, heartbreaking and most importantly, delusional," they claimed on the Missing Marokopa Children Facebook page earlier this year.
"He has made the decision to cut the entirety of their family out of their lives, as well as their friends and social life; their learning; their ability to grow up as children should.
"Whatever 'bush skills' you think Tom is teaching these children are greatly overshadowed by the things he has eliminated from their lives."
The family have also issued a statement on Thursday saying a man named Chris Budge has been "broadcasting incorrect information" and does not have permission to comment on behalf of them.
Anyone with information is urged to contact police.
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