Police probe whether missing NSW toddler AJ, 3, was kidnapped before being found in the bush


When three-year-old AJ was miraculously discovered by a rescue helicopter deep in the bush 72 hours after he went missing from his family home, Australia breathed a sigh of relief.

But the saga may only just be beginning, with police still examining the curious disappearance – including the possibility he was kidnapped and later released.  

There were scenes of jubilation when young Anthony ‘AJ’ Elfalak was finally located by Pol Air helicopter drinking from a creek on his family’s 256ha rural property in Putty, about 150km north-west of Sydney in the Upper Hunter, on Monday.

He had disappeared from his family’s property on Friday lunchtime, leading to a desperate search with his parents convinced he was abducted.

Now the police investigation is continuing, with some senior detectives in the NSW Police Force say ‘there are of lot of things that don’t add up’ including claims of missing CCTV footage from the family property. 

Raising suspicion for seasoned investigators is how the toddler, who has autism and is non-verbal, could have survived without anything to eat for 72 hours in temperatures that dropped to 2C – emerging with just a few scratches from three nights alone in the harsh terrain.

Anthony ‘AJ’ Elfalak was missing for 72 hours before he was miraculously found alive after being spotted 500m from the family home by a rescue helicopter

The Elfalak family with father Anthony, mother Kelly, AJ (pictured centre) and two of his brothers were delighted to be reunited with the three-year-old on Monday

The Elfalak family with father Anthony, mother Kelly, AJ (pictured centre) and two of his brothers were delighted to be reunited with the three-year-old on Monday

Police are also baffled that the child turned up in the creek just 500 meters away from the family’s home, evading highly-trained sniffer dogs since Friday as well as a helicopter fitted with infrared technology and hundreds of searchers scouring the nearby bush. 

A white ute was also reported to have driven away from the property around the time AJ disappeared, with a similar vehicle seized by police on Sunday, as well as CCTV from a service station 40km away. 

There are also claims more crucial CCTV footage had ‘gone missing’ at the rural property with family friend Alan Hashem, who was at the property at the time AJ went missing, claiming that someone may have tampered with security cameras he had installed on a tree high above the remote bushland road outside the home.

Mr Hashem said footage was now missing during the four-hour window when AJ vanished.

‘How did he leave, who did he leave with? Did anything sinister happen? These are questions that need to still be answered and we will not stop until we actually find the truth,’ he said on Monday.

AJ (pictured in the ambulance) with reunited with his parents and brothers before being taken to Singleton Hospital - but police are still investigating

AJ (pictured in the ambulance) with reunited with his parents and brothers before being taken to Singleton Hospital – but police are still investigating 

SES search crews (pictured) spent the weekend searching the area for the boy before he was found by a rescue helicopter on Monday

SES search crews (pictured) spent the weekend searching the area for the boy before he was found by a rescue helicopter on Monday

Father Anthony Elfalak and mother Kelly Elfalak (pictured together) moved to the rural property earlier this year with their children

Father Anthony Elfalak and mother Kelly Elfalak (pictured together) moved to the rural property earlier this year with their children

He also explained that the cameras set up in the area were installed high enough to make them near-impossible to tamper with, but somehow the crucial footage was missing. 

‘There’s one key factor and this is probably the first time I actually mentioned this, I installed cameras on that post right there,’ he told the Today show on Monday.

‘There’s footage missing, unexplained. (We have footage from) 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 user name and password to the police, we provided them the actual original memory card. There’s a lot of explaining to do.’

The claims come as it’s revealed Strike Force Raptor police, tasked with investigating the murky world of bikie crime, was ‘among the groups assisting with the missing persons investigation’ from the very beginning. 

AJ is comforted by a SES volunteer (pictured on Monday) after he was found drinking water from a creek and brought to safety

AJ is comforted by a SES volunteer (pictured on Monday) after he was found drinking water from a creek and brought to safety

Three-year-old 'AJ' Elfalak (pictured) disappeared from a rural property on Friday but was found drinking from a creek bed 500m from his family home on Monday - raising questions about how he survived

Three-year-old ‘AJ’ Elfalak (pictured) disappeared from a rural property on Friday but was found drinking from a creek bed 500m from his family home on Monday – raising questions about how he survived

His father Anthony Elfalak said the rural property has been a ‘sanctuary’ for their family for eight years, but they didn’t consider moving there permanently until recently, when they were desperate to escape the spiralling Covid outbreak in Sydney.

Property records indicate the land was purchased in November 2016 by Ms Elfalak and two associates, Michael and Katia Mallouhi, for just $30,000.

The figure is more than ten times less than the property sold for when it last went under the hammer in October 2014 for $320,000.

Superintendent Tracy Chapman on Monday afternoon acknowledged: ‘I know everyone has lots of questions.’ 

There are also claims more crucial CCTV footage had 'gone missing' at the rural property with family friend Alan Hashem (pictured), who was at the property at the time AJ went missing, claiming that someone may have tampered with security cameras

There are also claims more crucial CCTV footage had ‘gone missing’ at the rural property with family friend Alan Hashem (pictured), who was at the property at the time AJ went missing, claiming that someone may have tampered with security cameras

Family and friends rush towards the waiting ambulance on Monday (pictured), where AJ was being assessed after he was found in a nearby creek drinking water

Family and friends rush towards the waiting ambulance on Monday (pictured), where AJ was being assessed after he was found in a nearby creek drinking water

Family and friends at the property embrace on Monday (pictured) following confirmation AJ was found alive

Family and friends at the property embrace on Monday (pictured) following confirmation AJ was found alive

‘So we need to try to understand what has occurred over the past three days,’ she said.

‘I don’t understand what has happened with some CCTV footage, however, it is subsequently part of our inquiries.’

His mother Kelly initially claimed she feared AJ was ‘abducted’ saying that he was ‘not a wanderer’ and would not have ventured off alone.

It took the family two hours to tell police they saw a mysterious white ute on the property earlier that day, that was later seized by police.

Daily Mail Australia is not suggesting that any family members were involved in the potential abduction.

Police are investigating how AJ (pictured) survived in rugged bushland for four days without food in almost freezing temperatures before being found safe and well

Police are investigating how AJ (pictured) survived in rugged bushland for four days without food in almost freezing temperatures before being found safe and well 

AJ's relieved mum Kelly (pictured) collapsed to the ground after being told her son had been found alive on Monday

AJ’s relieved mum Kelly (pictured) collapsed to the ground after being told her son had been found alive on Monday

Police seized a white ute from a nearby property on Sunday (pictured) during their search for AJ

Police seized a white ute from a nearby property on Sunday (pictured) during their search for AJ

There were jubilant scenes on Monday when the little boy was spotted drinking from the muddy creek by a rescue helicopter.

He was soon reunited with his distraught mother, who cried as she finally got to hold her little boy.

Relatives and friends celebrated triumphantly upon the news rescuers had found AJ, who later gulped down pizza and a banana provided by search teams.

His family put out a statement on Monday, thanking those who helped find AJ.

‘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.

‘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.

‘Please give our family the privacy to appreciate what we have.’ 

TIMELINE OF LITTLE AJ’S DISAPPEARENCE 

FRIDAY

• AJ Elfalak reported missing at 11.45am on Friday while playing with his three brothers. The 650-acre property is off Yengo Drive, Putty, and is only accessible by dirt track with the home surrounded by thick bush and 15 dams.

SATURDAY

• His mother, Kelly Elfalak, says he might have been abducted – as 50 family members join the search with 200 volunteers in the search for AJ.

SUNDAY

• One dam is drained by excavator and police drivers also search other nearby waterways as the desperate search continues. A mysterious Ford Ranger ute was seized by police investigators at Bulga, a village which is north-east of where he was last seen. The abandoned property, about one kilometre south of the property, was also searched on Sunday as police confirmed a criminal investigation was underway. They also seized CCTV footage from a service station at Colo Heights, which is about 40 minutes drive south of Putty towards Sydney.

• MONDAY

• Elfalak family spokesman, Alan Hashem, claim CCTV footage of him going missing was erased. However, about 11.45am police release a statement saying he’s been found, with SES workers finding him on a river bank 500 metres from the property.

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