Police have been seen wheeling away a body after a development in the search for a man connected to the death of 21-year-old Sydney teacher Lilie James.
Since 7.40am, Friday, police teams have been searching for the body of Paul Thijssen, 24, who is wanted for questioning over Ms James’ death.
Her body was found in a gym bathroom stall at the high-fee St Andrew’s Cathedral School in Sydney’s CBD on Wednesday night, with Ms James sustaining “serious head injuries”.
At about 12.15pm on Friday, police from the Eastern Suburbs Police Area Command recovered the body of a man from the rocks around Diamond Bay in Vaucluse.
It followed an extensive search involving the Rescue and Bomb Disposal Unit, the Marine Area Command, and the Westpac Rescue helicopter.
While the man has not been formally identified, authorities were seen transporting the body out of a blue forensics tent at about 3.30pm.
‘Heartbroken’: Dad’s tears for slain daughter
Earlier on Friday, the father of Ms James was visibly heartbroken and crying while speaking about his “vibrant, outgoing” and loved daughter.
Reading out a statement to NCA NewsWire inside their family home in Sydney’s south, Ms James’s dad Jamie said the family was “devastated and heartbroken by the loss of our beautiful Lilie James”.
“She was vibrant, outgoing and very much loved by her friends and family,” he said, stopping multiple times to gather himself.
“We are tremendously grateful for the support of the community at this difficult time.”
The family said they would not be commenting further on the tragedy, as a police investigation was under way.
“We ask that you respect our privacy and direct any inquiries to NSW Police,” he said.
Neighbours moved by the tragedy were seen leaving flowers outside of the James family home, with more tributes to Ms James seen inside as loved ones showed their respects.
Police launch operation to retrieve the body
Shortly before 11.30am, a crew of police rescue officers were seen descending into the rocks through a gully, with a stretcher filled with equipment and bottled water.
Down below, staff in blue helmets and white overalls traversed the tricky rocky base as authorities continued their operation to recover the body.
A retrieval operation began on Friday morning after a large object was spotted in the water just before 8am.
Concerned residents from the affluent Sydney suburb gathered outside their multimillion-dollar homes on Friday morning as multiple police crews arrived on the scene.
A Westpac rescue helicopter was called in and rescue jet skis were spotted scouring the water near the rugged rocks. A police boat was also seen patrolling the bay.
The retrieval operation was impacted by the strong wind and rough surf around the area, with the Bureau of Meteorology releasing a strong wind warning for the Sydney coast line.
It also warned surf and swell conditions would remain hazardous until Saturday midnight.
Officers believed that Mr Thijssen called them from the notorious spot “The Gap” to report that Ms James’s body would be found at the school.
She was found inside a gym bathroom at the prestigious school in what was described as a traumatic scene for first responders.
It’s believed that she was beaten to death with a hammer, with police confirming on Thursday that Ms James had suffered serious head injuries.
New details have also emerged about the relationship between Mr Thijssen and Ms James.
The pair are believed to have dated for five weeks before Ms James recently ended the relationship with the sports coach and assistant at St Andrew’s.
Before her death, Ms James was a student at University of Technology Sydney. She graduated from Danebank Anglican School for Girls in 2020.
She excelled at drama and sport, with her mother Peta sharing numerous Facebook photos celebrating her achievements that included winning an under-17 swimming tournament in 2019.
Mr Thijssen, who is a Dutch national, was a St Andrew’s alumni who had been a sports captain before graduating in 2017.
The school remains closed as police investigate the circumstances around Ms James’s death.
“St Andrew’s Cathedral School remains closed today to all students except those sitting year 12 exams, as the school continues to work with Police following an onsite death overnight,” a spokesman from the school said.
“No students were involved and there is no ongoing threat.
“An area of the school, not accessible to students, is a crime zone, and we await the approval of Police before bringing everyone back on site,” the school statement continues.
St Andrew’s Cathedral is a private day school for children from kindergarten to year 12.
The Anglican school charges tuition fees up to $36,770 a year.