With his elephant toy in one hand and his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pyjamas on, little Connor Elliott Graham simply wandered off into the night after Christmas.
A 10-hour-search on Thursday by police, the State Emergency Service and hundreds of locals eventually located the four year-old’s body in the Clarence River, just metres from his aunt and uncle’s home on Chatsworth Island, north of Grafton.
His parents, Caity and Dave Graham, woke on Boxing Day to find that Connor, who was autistic, was not in his bed.
They had put Connor, his baby sister Matilda and baby brother Alex to sleep on Christmas night and checked on them at 3.30am because Connor had woken at 3am the previous night.
When they checked again at 7am, the boy was gone.
His aunt, Kim Macfarlane, said the fly screen on his window had been pushed out and his toy elephant was found on the bank of the river close to her home. They searched the back and front yards before running down Chatsworth Road, screaming for help.
”We were out on our front verandah first thing this morning and the family came bolting up the road, just frantic, running in and out of every house asking if we’d seen a little redhead boy,” neighbour Robynne McKerracher said.
The community of about 150 immediately mustered boats, cars and torches to search the cane fields and swampy rivers that surround the area.
The PolAir and Westpac helicopters joined the search, along with the dog squad, Royal Life Saving volunteers and 29 SES members.
A photo of the red-haired boy was shared thousands of times on Facebook, and Ms Macfarlane pleaded for help to find her ”beautiful nephew”.
”We are beside ourselves with worry,” she posted.
However, just before 5pm, the family’s worst fears were realised when Connor’s body was found in the water.
Inspector Brendan Gorman from Coffs/Clarence Local Area Command said: ”We believe the child left the premises of his own volition.”