Parents’ living hell as hunt for Aisling enters fifth day
Police hunting for missing toddler Aisling Symes have not ruled out she could have been stolen to order.
Nothing has been seen of the bright and bubbly two-year-old since Monday night when she was last seen with an Asian woman who was holding a dog on a lead.
Aisling’s disappearance from her deceased grandparents’ Longburn Rd home in Henderson has sparked one of the biggest police hunts for years.
But after three days of searching police have found no sign of the toddler and investigation head Inspector Gary Davey said today it was looking increasingly likely she had been kidnapped.
He could not rule out that she may have been stolen to order.
“That is a possibility. What I am trying to do is to convince the public to keep an open mind.”
He said if she was taken to order it would be a very, very rare occurrence.
“We don’t have any evidence to suggest any scenario. Some are more likely than others.
“For example abduction is more likely than her wandering off, given the thoroughness of our search.”
It was also a possibility she had been a hit-and-run victim where the driver had panicked and taken her away.
Mr Davey said search and rescue experts believed after studying the creek near her family’s house, the rainfall, and the water flows, it was “highly unlikely” she would have been swept down the creek before the police began their intense search of the area.
He said the mystery Asian woman seen with Aisling about 5.30pm on Monday had still to be identified and there was still a possibility she had no idea of the search or the grief of the parents, Alan and Angela Symes.
Davey said at a press conference yesterday that despite a comprehensive search of the area: “We cannot locate Aisling.”
Sitting alongside the parents, he made a direct appeal to anyone who might have snatched Aisling.
“Police are still hopeful that she is alive and being cared for and I’m talking to that person … I just would like to say to whomever may have Aisling out there, the sole focus of the police at the moment is to have Aisling returned safely … We hope that you come forward and leave her in a safe place so that she can be found.”
Mr Davey said officers were also continuing to profile “people of concern” in the area. More police were joining the inquiry to work on this.
Police had also received 111 calls of sightings of Asian women with babies, after police appeals to the woman in her 30s who was walking her dog when she spoke to Aisling in Longburn Rd.
As police struggle for leads, fear of more snatches is beginning to haunt other parents.
“It will have a tremendous impact … everything you do now you will be holding on to your children tightly,” said the head of the local community board, Elizabeth Grimmer, a grandmother of two. “Children just aren’t going to be able to run freely and us feel safe …”
In the parents’ first public appeal, Mr Symes, a former search and rescue worker and security guard, described the past four days as “the most harrowing of our lives” and said the couple had not slept.
He read from a prepared statement, pausing midway to compose himself, while his wife buried her head in his shoulder.
“We feel like we’re barely existing, surviving every moment not knowing where Aisling is,” he said. “Is she near us or has she been moved far away? Is she being treated well, things like has her nappy been changed … these thoughts churn through us as we huddle close as a family and we try to wait to find out if there is anything.”
As the couple left the briefing room, police hurriedly shut the door as Mrs Symes broke into wracking sobs.
A child psychology expert said Aisling would now be distressed if she had been abducted.
Canterbury University associate professor Lianne Woodward, said: “She could be very unsettled and irritated, her sleep might not be very good, there might be some crying.”
The effects of such a trauma would depend on how long it took for her to be returned, she said. “If she’s reunited with her parents soon, there’s much less concern. But if it goes on, or there’s been abuse, then the concern grows.”
An abductor could care for Aisling by doing “the basics” — feeding and cleaning her — but she needed her parents for her emotional wellbeing.
A families commissioner, Christine Rankin, said parents needed to take extra care.
“Until we know if someone is out there that is a danger, absolutely, the more vigilant they are the better. I don’t think there’s any room to be casual about this at all.”
But Waitemata police communications manager Kevin Loughlin said: “There is no additional reason for parents to be concerned with their children at this time.
“We are dealing with a missing persons inquiry. We haven’t even identified any individual or person or factors around that.”
Prime Minister John Key urged anyone with information to come forward. “Our hearts go out to the family, we are very concerned about her welfare and we hope for a speedy and successful return of the little girl.”