A baseball cap reportedly found in dense bushland in Byron Bay may be the link to finding missing backpacker Theo Hayez.
The Belgian native was last seen outside Cheeky Monkey’s bar on May 31. He was on the last leg of his trip around Australia.
An immediate search on the ground was halted by NSW Police earlier this month, but the recent discovery of the cap by an independent search party has sparked hope they may be closer to finding Theo.
The cap similar to one owned by the 18-year-old was found 10 days ago in the same location his mobile phone last registered at with a communications tower hours after he vanished, The Daily Telegraph reported.
“Police were contacted by members of the community conducting independent searched who found the baseball cap in bushland,” a NSW Police spokesperson told Yahoo News Australia.
“It’s being sent for forensics examination to determine if it’s of relevance.”
But the spokesperson would not confirm if the cap was the same or similar to the one Theo was wearing, or if it was found near where his phone was last detected.
The breakthrough comes as his parents, Laurent Hayez and Vinciane Delforg, told Belgian news station RTBF they believe their son may have been abducted in the NSW coastal town.
“Maybe Theo could have been kidnapped, drugged... he may be a prisoner somewhere where there is no electricity,” Mr Hayez said.
His parents assisted in the search and told media that despite believing the search was too short, they were impressed with how thorough the Australian police effort was.
“There were helicopters, drones, dogs, trackers, divers, and even rock climbers to go on the cliffs," Mr Hayez told RTBF.
The couple said they would continue searching for their missing son for as long as there was no body found.
A camp was discovered in bushland near the location where Theo’s phone last registered at 1:40am, the morning after he was last seen.
His father fears Theo may be being held against his will in a commune, telling media he believes that location is home to “bad communities”.
“There are people who live in communes, Theo could have enrolled in one,” Mr Hayez said.
Theo used the messaging service WhatsApp on the night he vanished, his father believes the content of the messages may hold clues to where his son is.
WhatsApp could only provide limited information on the encrypted service, including the user’s last seen date, IP address and basic information but not the content of messages.
His parents plan to return to Australia in August and continue the search independently.
“Let him be a prisoner and let him be delivered," Theo’s father said tearfully.
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.