Curled up asleep on a couch at a neighbour’s empty house, his dog Dusty faithfully by his side, three-year-old Abel Hart seemed unaware of the desperate six-hour search he sparked when he wandered from his family’s semi-rural property near Northam yesterday afternoon.
Bare-foot and wearing only one of his sister’s T-shirts, his nappy long gone, the little boy was uninjured when a State Emergency Service volunteer’s dog helped searchers track Abel to a house about 800m from where he vanished while supposedly having a nap.
This morning Abel was still tired from his long walk and too overwhelmed to tell his relieved mum Kelly exactly where he and Dusty went after slipping out of the Clackline home to visit the family’s horses in a back paddock.
Mrs Hart said she was “very happy” he was safe but still felt overwhelmed by what had happened after finding an empty bed when she went to wake Abel from his afternoon nap about 5.30pm.
She checked the paddocks where he often wandered to visit the family horses but there was no sign of him or his faithful dog Dusty.
“When I realised Dusty was missing as well it was an instant triple-zero phone call,” she said.
The famiy’s home in Clackline, about 80km east of Perth, is surrounded by bush and not far from dams on neighbouring properties.
“It tore me apart, I felt not only concerned but I felt like a bad parent because I’d lost my three-year-old,” Mrs Hart admitted.
She said the following hours were really hard, but the support of her family, friends, authorities and the local community helped.
Dozens of residents from nearby Clackline, Bakers Hill and Northam turned out to help search for the little boy as darkness fell.
Mrs Hart said she barely remembers what happened when news came about 11.30pm that he had been found. But she has been told she ran through the house to the nearest police car to meet him at the town hall.
“I just hugged and cried,” she said. But she said Abel does not seem to really comprehend what has happened.
It appears the little boy had walked to a nearby property and managed to get inside the empty house. He got something to eat from the fridge and turned on the television before falling asleep on the couch where he was found.
“To him it’s just like he went for a walk around the yard and they stumbled upon another house,” she said.
Mrs Hart and police thanked SES volunteers and everyone else who came to help search for Abel and Dusty.
“A huge thank you to the Clackline, Bakers Hill and Northam communities,” she said. “The support we got from people was unbelievable… people were on foot, in cars and baking food for searchers.”