Missing backpacker ‘may be a prisoner’
ALMOST two months after his mysterious disappearance, the family of missing teenager Theo Hayez have not given up hope of finding their missing son.
Theo's father has told a Belgian radio station he believes his son could still be alive, trapped in one of the region's cults or communes, unable to communicate with the outside world.
Laurent Hayez said in the revealing interview he hadn't lost hope of finding his son, who hasn't been contacted since he left the Cheeky Monkey's Bar in Byron Bay at 11pm on May 31. Theo's phone last "pinged" in the Cape Byron area, near the lighthouse, on June 1.
An extensive, month-long search for Theo was launched in the Byron area after he was reported missing by the Wake Up! backpacker hostel on June 6.
The search involved SES volunteers, drones, dogs and groups of locals but failed to find the Belgian teenager. Police said at the time they were "baffled" by the disappearance.
Laurent has said in interviews since the search was suspended that while they wait for confirmation on various leads, he believes there are still individuals with vital information who have not come forward.
Laurent also suggests the possibility his son could be trapped in one of the area's cults or communes, many of which operate off the grid without power or communication with the outside world.
"As long as we have not found his body, we keep hope," he told Belgian public service broadcaster RTBF during an interview earlier this month.
Mr Hayez said in the interview the area was notorious for cults, communes and isolated and unusual communities. He said there was a possibility his son had been "enlisted, kidnapped, drugged".
"He may be a prisoner somewhere where there is no electricity - it is our hope," he said.
"Let him be a prisoner and let him be delivered."
Tweed Byron Police have told news.com.au a number of "multiple occupancy, alternate lifestyle communities" are part of their investigation.
Laurent and Theo's mother, Vinciane Delforge, have returned home to Belgium, where they were reunited with their other son Lucas, 15.
While police called off official searches at the end of July, the Byron Bay community, who have rallied behind the Hayez family, continued to organise search groups who scoured the local area for traces of the lost teenager.
Laurent told the Echonet Daily he planned to return to Byron Bay at the beginning of August to rejoin locals, who have continued regular searches for Theo, set up a website and Facebook group to allow information to be gathered and shared, and organised for search members to use co-ordinated apps to ensure all search areas are covered thoroughly using GPS data. A private GPO Box is available for anonymous tip-offs, and a separate email address has been set up for psychics and mediums to provide insights.
Belgian police previously joined the investigation and assisted Australian police but were called back to their posts after five days. According to reports, they were under pressure from their superiors to leave Byron Bay but continued to assist NSW Police with the investigation.
On July 18, a hat similar to the one worn by the Theo when he went missing was discovered in the Cape Byron area.
The hat was found by an independent search crew and is now undergoing forensic testing. Other items of clothing were found earlier in the search, including a jumper, but these were later found not to belong to the missing teen.
SEARCH FOR THEO TO CONTINUE 'FOR SOME TIME'
Despite police suspending the physical search of the Byron area, police investigations into Theo's disappearance continue.
"The investigators are going through a considerable amount of information," Inspector Matt Kehoe told news.com.au.
"I like to think the results from the hat will be back within a week or two."
Inspector Kehoe said a tip off about communes came from Crime Stoppers, and while many of the alternative lifestyle communities were canvassed following Theo's disappearance, they continue to be a part of the investigation.
"There are a number of these multiple occupancy, alternate lifestyle communities, and they continue to be part of our investigation.
"Our detectives are working diligently to get our information, the investigation will be ongoing for some time.
"We encourage anyone with information to come forward."
Inspector Kehoe reiterated that the police are working in conjunction with the community search groups, and the Belgian investigators.
"While they are not conducting physical searches at the moment, they are still looking for Theo," Laurent told the Echonet Daily.
"This is a complex case, and the police have a lot of information to go over."
"There are many theories circulating, and some of them are plausible," he explained. "We have spoken about some of those theories before but they remain theories. We need solid evidence, so we must give investigators the opportunity to gather and verify that evidence.
"We do believe that there are witnesses that haven't yet come forward. We believe that Theo did not spend the early hours of June 1 alone."
Theo's parents have said the harsh landscape made searches difficult, and they've found searching the area at times "like looking for a needle in a haystack".
"It is not the Belgian Ardennes," they explained.
Mr Hayez praised the work of local police and said the focus of continuing searches was to cover ground that had been missed. The local search groups were co-ordinating themselves using GPS apps, putting data together via email.
"The vegetation is very dense, and the fauna hostile with snakes … but every day we followed the steps Theo could have taken," he said.
"We were looking for clues. We were just two people among lots of volunteers who were all looking for our son. It was like he was their son too.
"The land is huge, and they know it requires teamwork. Some have grown up in Byron and know the bushes, others just wanted to help."
Theo's time in Byron was his fifth month in Australia after he arrived in the country in November 2018. He initially stayed with his godfather and worked at the Australian Open tennis over summer.
His trip then took him to Tasmania with another backpacker before he met with his cousin Lisa, and the pair spent time fruit picking.
Theo then spent time working with a landscaping company before travelling with a group of backpackers to Alice Springs and then to Cairns. He arrived in Byron Bay on May 30, just a day before he was last seen at the Cheeky Monkey Bar.
He had planned to travel home to Belgium on June 13 to start studying engineering.
News.com.au sought comment from the Hayez family and Tweed-Byron police but did immediately receive a response.