When the nightmare started - mother tells

By Rachel Tiffen

Angela and Alan Symes say hope is the only thing keeping them going. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Angela and Alan Symes say hope is the only thing keeping them going. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Angela Symes pulled up at her childhood home in Henderson on Monday afternoon with her mind on the job.

About a year after her parents' passing, the family had decided to put the house on the market and the new owners were moving in that weekend.

A washing machine left in a flat within the house on Longburn Rd had to be checked.

About 4pm, with daughters Aisling, 2, and Caitlin, 5 - who were rugged up against the icy conditions, the younger girl clutching a new Pooh Bear - she went inside.

The sisters went down to the creek to play with the ducklings in an area where mum could keep an eye on them through the window. The protective family dog was also on guard.

Popping in and out over the next hour, the girls chatted with their mum and played games.

Then Caitlin decided she wanted to help. Aisling, who had always been fascinated by anything mechanical, happily watched.

But the washing machine was not spinning properly. It was full of water and too heavy to move, so Mrs Symes decided to disconnect it.

The young mother fiddled around at the back with Caitlin and reconnected the hot tap, then turned to check on her toddler.

Aisling's big blue eyes, which were developing "a bit of tawny gold", gazed up at her. Now for the cold tap. Again, Mrs Symes turned to check. The toddler looked on, fascinated.

A bit more tightening at the back, then turn again ...

Empty space.

Utter panic.

"And then she was gone, she was just gone," said Mrs Symes yesterday, four harrowing days later.

Neighbour Cherie Tahitahi heard the screams.

Said Mrs Symes: "I was like, 'Where's Aisling?' and ran out, up and down the road and couldn't see her."

She and Mrs Tahitahi - with her husband Darren and their sons Jarrod, 9, and Troy, 7 - scoured the street and rising creek. The rain was teeming down and it was bitterly cold.

After 15 minutes of frantic searching - "we were running around like headless chickens" - Mrs Symes dialled 111.

Police arrived in minutes and the nightmare that was to become Angela and Alan Symes' lives began.

For the next 48 hours, 100 officers and volunteers combed the area for a glimpse of Aisling's little green parka, her blue jeans with embroidered flowers or her white tennis shoes.

As the stream rose, so too did concerns she had slipped in.

The search was suspended, police satisfied she wasn't there.

Police have talked fruitlessly to several Asian women fitting the description of a woman seen with Aisling.

Meanwhile, Alan and Angela Symes - whose red eyes and drained faces tell the tale of their sleepless week - are left "clinging to hope".

"That's all that is keeping us going," said Mr Symes yesterday, his arm drawing his wife in tight.

The grief-stricken father makes a final plea: "We don't know where she was taken, we don't know the state of mind of the person who took her.

"We certainly hope Aisling is being looked after. Please drop her off somewhere safe."

- NZ Herald

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