A couple said they had “lost all hope” their missing toddler would be found alive after he wandered into bushland south of Perth on Saturday morning.
James, 3, was playing with his family’s dogs in the front yard of a holiday rental home in the remote area of Yallingup at 7.30am when he disappeared while wearing his Spider-Man pyjamas.
The toddler and his sister travelled to the home on Friday for a weekend away with their parents, Michelle Buckley and Chris O’Reilly.
But what was supposed to be a relaxing timeout quickly turned into their worst nightmare, Mr O’Reilly said during an emotional interview on Sunday.
After waking up, James and his sister woke up their parents and the three-year-old said he was going to play outside.
“I told him I’d be out in five minutes so I quickly cleaned up, put the rubbish away and went out there and he was just gone,” Ms Buckley said.
“I screamed his name and he just didn’t respond.”
The mum rushed upstairs to wake up her partner and the couple said they spiralled into “pure panic”.
Ms Buckley called the police as Mr O’Reilly began frantically searching.
Officers, search teams, neighbours, friends, family and even strangers from Perth rushed to the tourist town to help the family find James, the couple said.
As the day went on, the weather dropped to 9C and it began to rain and hail – leaving the parents fearing the worst.
“I honestly thought we were going to find him dead. I thought I was going to have to bury my son,” Ms Buckley said while breaking down in tears.
“Once it started getting to sunset I was really started to panic because I didn’t want him to be out there during the night, especially since it was a windy and rainy day.”
Mr O’Reilly broke down while searching for his son, calling it a “gut-wrenching” experience.
In what the parents have dubbed a “miracle”, James was found alive and well by his uncle and grandpa roughly 12 hours after going missing and kilometres from the home.
They said James was cold, afraid and hungry but had only a few scratches on him.
After being rushed back home by family members, Ms Buckley took off his pyjamas and wrapped the toddler in a blanket and his uncle snuck him a snickers bar.
A smiling James quickly inquired about his favourite bunny rabbit doll and announced he “went out in the bush”.
He was taken to the hospital after saying he had seen a snake but was given the all-clear.
Ms Buckley and Mr O’Reilly profusely thanked everyone who came out to help, saying they were touched by the actions of the local community.
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