3-year-old AJ was found on Monday. But questions still remain over his disappearance.

On what was described as a "typical" Friday morning, three-year-old Anthony 'AJ' Elfalak went missing from his family's Hunter Valley home. 

AJ, who has autism and is non-verbal, was being looked after by his older brothers who were playing outside their home in Putty. 

His mother and godfather were preparing lunch in the kitchen while his father was outside fixing quad bikes. Then, one of his brothers needed to go to the bathroom. 

"The oldest boy needed to go to the bathroom and took the youngest one, AJ, and he left him just inside the dining area," his godfather Alan Hashem told the Today show.

"After a few minutes, the boys come out and entered through the other part of the house and the mother goes, 'Where's AJ?'"

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"The boys had a puzzled look on their face. We all stand up and at that moment I had the closest view to the driveway and noticed a white ute, we believe either a Mazda or a Toyota, a much older model. It was slowly driving through here."

Mr Hashem went on to say that the family didn't think much of it at the time and thought "if AJ's gone somewhere it's not going to be far".


The family took four ATVs to try to search for the boy, covering thousands of square metres, but he could not be found.

That afternoon, just before 12:30pm, police officers responded to reports of the missing toddler at the 263-hectare property. 

A land and air search area soon went underway, as PolAir, dog squad, divers, the mounted unit, State Emergency Service (SES), Rural Fire Service (RFS) and Volunteer Rescue Association (VRA) personnel searched the rugged area over for the following four days. 

On Sunday, police seized a white ute which the family noted was in the area around the same time AJ went missing.

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The following morning, Mr Hashem said he feared his godson had been abducted and claimed that CCTV cameras he installed on the property were missing footage during the time of his disappearance.

"Without a doubt [he has been abducted]; for the simple reason he is on the spectrum of autism but he is always quite afraid and attached to his mum," he told the Today show on Monday. 

"There’s footage missing, unexplained. Days before, days after, but not during the time."

"You know what's more alarming? We installed it so high you can’t tamper with it and we had two mechanisms of storage, cloud storage and physical storage, and there’s no data in that time slot.


"We provided the username and password to the police, we provided them the actual original memory card. There’s a lot of explaining to do."

AJ’s father Anthony Elfalak also told reporters this week, "A kid just doesn’t pick up and disappear".

The rescue. 

Thankfully, after a three-day search in rugged bushland, AJ was discovered drinking water on a nearby riverbank by a rescue helicopter around 11:30am on Monday morning. 

Police said the helicopter directed ground search crews to his location, about half a kilometre from the family's home.

SES volunteer Greg Chalmers made first contact with AJ, who gave him "the biggest smile". 

"Here's this beautiful little boy, kneeling in the water trying to get a drink," he told Sydney radio station 2GB on Tuesday.

"It was fantastic to absolutely see this little boy was actually alive."

"I put my hand on that little boy and he looked around and gave me the biggest smile.

"He gripped on and gripped on and just wouldn't let go."


The three-year-old had survived three nights alone in the bush in temperatures which dropped around three degrees. He was assessed by NSW Ambulance paramedics before being taken to hospital with minor injuries. 

At the time, Mr Elfalak confirmed his son was alive and was in a reasonable condition. 

"He's got some nappy rash, he's been bitten by ants, he's fallen over — but he's alive," he told reporters. 

"He's just clinging to mum — as soon as he heard his mum's name he opened his eyes and looked at her and fell asleep."

Footage broadcast by Nine showed the boy's family jumping for joy when they heard he had been found.

"Thank you for everyone. Thank you for the government. Thank you for the police. Thank you very much," AJ's mother Kelly Elfalak told Nine News.


"Thank you to my friend, my cousin, my sisters, my family. Thank you, everybody and whoever prayed for us."

One of AJ's uncles, Louis Elfalak, said it was a "miracle" he was found alive. 

"Everyone started losing hope, thinking the worst," he said, according to ABC.

"It's unbelievable."

Meanwhile, Mr Hashem, told Nine that he had barely slept for days during the search. 

"We were driving ourselves crazy, this kid could barely walk," he said. 

The family later released a statement thanking police, emergency services and the community for their efforts. 

"Our family is together again. For that we are grateful to everyone who has assisted in any way over the last three days," they said in the statement on Monday. 

"Thank you to the NSW Police, Rescue Services, volunteers, community members, friends and family who have worked tirelessly to find AJ."

"AJ is fine. Hold your kids close."

Unanswered questions. 

On Monday, Superintendent Tracy Chapman confirmed investigations into how AJ disappeared were still ongoing. 

"From a policing perspective we will still be continuing our inquiry to understand what has occurred over the past three days," she said.

"I know everyone has lots of questions."

Ms Chapman also addressed the CCTV footage in an interview with Sunrise, saying that "there could be any number of reasons" the footage is missing around the time AJ disappeared. 


"There was certainly some period of time where there was no recording on the CCTV footage and we will continue to look at that," she said, adding that the camera was a "motion-detected CCTV" camera. 

"That’s still part of our inquiry and obviously as I said our investigation will continue to look into those aspects."

According to 7NEWS, it's also being investigated whether there was a 'sinister reason' to abduct the toddler. 

Investigators are also trying to figure out how the boy survived being alone in the bush without anything to eat for 72 hours and in temperatures that dropped around three degrees.

Questions also remain on how he was discovered half a kilometre from the family's home without being spotted by rescue teams earlier. 

However, Aviation commander Detective Superintendent, Brad Monk, says the search team would have walked past him. 

"There's no doubt that the young fella was in close proximity of searchers during and throughout the search," he said, according to the ABC.

"It's just dense terrain and if you're unable to see him with the naked eye, then you will simply walk past his location. There's no doubt that would have happened."

Anthony and Kelly Elfalak and their four sons moved to the property just months ago as Mr Elfalak's work as a plumber dried up during lockdown.

More than 130 people were involved in the search over the weekend, with volunteers helping police on foot and on dirt bikes. Divers also searched and drained a large dam on the property.


- With AAP. 

This article was originally published on September 6, 2021, and was updated on September 7, 2021.

Feature Image: NSW Police. 

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