Noelene Smith, one of the organisers of the community led search party.
Noelene Smith, one of the organisers of the community led search party. Marc Stapelberg

'We won't give up': Community vow to keep searching for Theo

Community search intensifies: THE logistics of organising a community led search for missing Belgian backpacker has been gruelling but volunteers aren't willing to give up any time soon.
Community search intensifies: THE logistics of organising a community led search for missing Belgian backpacker has been gruelling but volunteers aren't willing to give up any time soon.

UPDATE 2.49pm: THE Byron community is wearing its heart on its sleeve and showing immense support for the family of the missing Belgian backpacker Theo Hayez.

Theo was last seen leaving Cheeky Monkeys Bar on Jonson St, Byron Bay on May 31 about 11pm.

Police are continuing their investigations into his disappearance by conducting land, sea and air searches around the Byron area, including Cape Byron Headland.

But the continuous stream of community members volunteering their time to look for Theo has been a constant reminder to the Hayez family that hope is not lost in finding the missing 18-year-old.

Noelene Smith, who has been organising the community led search, said the Hayez family have been overwhelmed with the support shown by the community.

"They're trying to keep their spirits high as best they possibly can," she said.

"I think the fact that there's no clue whatsoever, Theo's just vanished into thin air but they're doing the best they can. We're trying to give them the support as we can."

"I have a new family, they're French and they're Belgian and they're beautiful and they're called Hayez."

Ms Smith said every time she tries to put herself in the shoes of the Hayez family she starts to cry.

"I'm a grandma and a mum and if my children were in another country I would like to think someone was helping them as well," she said.

"This is something you can't walk away from. He's a young boy, he's 18, he's very sensible by all accounts and he's just vanished and that's just a ridiculous thing to happen at 11pm on a Friday night in Byron Bay because the town is absolutely buzzing.

"It's a complete mystery for everyone concerned."

But the overwhelming support from the community, businesses and cafes who have also donated food and water for the search party, or simply kind messages of support, has kept spirits high for those giving their time to look for Theo.

"It's heart-warming to know that so many people feel so strongly about what's happening and that gives the strength," Ms Smith said.

Meanwhile, Hayley Paddon decided to drive from Banora Point with her daughter to join the search for Theo today.

"Having a young daughter about to go and embark on travel overseas, I think as a community it's important we help a foreign backpacker to try to get home," she said.

"If anything happened to her, I know how I would feel in another country.

"I've been watching it closely, and I just felt that I needed to come down and lend some support to the family.

"Hopefully it won't take too much longer, and they find a lead to where he his."

The official police search will continue this afternoon around the Cape Byron Headland, while community volunteers will focus their attention on looking in bushland between Suffolk Park and Broken Head.

 

Original story: THE logistics of organising a community led search for missing Belgian backpacker Theo Hayez has been gruelling but volunteers aren't willing to give up any time soon.

As police continue to search the ocean and bushland around Cape Byron, Noeline Smith, who is one of the organisers behind the community search for Theo, said she was filled with pride in the way Byron Bay residents were supporting the Hayez family in this difficult time.

The volunteer crew, which has grown in its numbers since the official land search began on June 9, have scoured bushland from Belongil to Suffolk Park, with efforts today focussing on the Broken Head area.

"Pretty much every blade of grass and bush area from Elements out west of Byron, all through the Cape and now all the way along the coastline up to Broken Head and Whites Beach and today's search will be going up to Brays Hole," Ms Smith said.

"It's an area that hasn't been searched.

It's an area that Lisa, Theo's cousin, has been asking us to (search).

"This is for Theo of course and the family and friends but especially for Lisa because she's requested several areas and we go with what they'd like also."

Ms Smith said those who are volunteering their time to help look for Theo are determined to not give up until something is found.

But these things take planning and coordination, something Ms Smith is quickly learning needs to be executed appropriately to ensure everyone involved is safe across the search.

"It starts with trying to figure out what area to target next and then just putting up a post (online) so everyone knows," Ms Smith said.

"Putting all that information altogether on a post and then getting to the meeting point the next morning.

"The big thing is to sign everyone in but the more important thing is to make sure everyone signs out on the day so that we know they are safe."

Ms Smith said each day is different but what remains the same is the level of concern for the volunteers safety.

"It depends on the area, they could be out for anywhere between two to four hours each time," she said.

"We then get together and have some food and talk about whatever. Then some people might have to leave because they've got work and other commitments, but some will stay and help with another search.

"We're always in by 4pm because it starts getting dark and you don't want people going out after then and getting back in the dark.

"We're trying to do it in a safe environment for everybody."

Ms Smith urged anyone who wanted to volunteer with the search to make sure they join the group, and don't go off wandering through bushland alone.

"You have to (stay in large numbers), please never go out on your own even if you are an experienced bushman or a hiker," she said.

"You may get to some terrain you've never discovered before and you could get into trouble. It gets very think in parts."