Parents are watching their children closely in Palmerston North this morning while the man who abducted a 5-year-old girl remains on the loose.

At Takaro Park, near where yesterday's incident happened, Antonio Urlich, 2-1/2, was under close supervision from mum Dana Healey.

"I'm not letting my little boy out of my sight," she said as Antonio nimbly zipped around a jungle gym.

"Especially if there's a predator out there. It's got quite game to take a child with two other children present, so how long before it escalates?"


Yesterday's incident brought back memories of when a man tried to snatch or harm Miss Healy's 15-year-old daughter four years ago as she walked home from McDonald's on Featherston St.

Her daughter screamed and the man ran off after pushing her over a concrete wall. He was never caught.

"She never went out much after that."

The mother of the 5-year-old girl who was kidnapped in Palmerston North yesterday says her two daughters repeatedly punched the girl's abductor as he pulled her into a car.

The young girl was taken by a man on Shamrock St as she was walking with her sisters to nearby Te Kura o Takaro primary school yesterday morning.

The young girl's mother told the Herald her two daughters aged 8 and 7 came running back to their house along with a Shamrock St neighbour on Burns Ave yelling: "A man's taken her."

She said she was "absolutely hysterical" when she heard the news.

"I was hysterical. I didn't want to talk to anyone except the police," she said.

She said her two daughters punched the man repeatedly to try to stop the abduction, but their efforts were in vain.

Police had contacted her saying a girl matching the same description as her daughter was found on Hind Place, 6km away, but told her initially to not get her hopes up.

"I was so relieved when we found her," she said.

"You hear a lot of stories where kids don't come back."

She said her daughters had a description of what the man looked like and DNA evidence may have been found on her child's school uniform.

"I've heard he's been hanging around Takaro Park a lot," she said.

The park is near the school the three girls attended.

The mother and daughter had returned home from a check-up in hospital.

She said her daughters would never be walking to school again and she would take them there herself.

Saved by 91-year-old: 'I could see she was in trouble'

A Palmerston North great-grandfather described the moment he found the little girl at the centre of today's major police hunt standing crying on a street corner.

Retired dairy farmer Bill Gilliland, 91, said he came across a distraught young girl after returning home from running his wife to a hair appointment.

"On the way back I saw her on the corner wandering around.

"I could see she was in trouble and it all started from there.

"I thought she was just lost.

"I had just turned into Hind Place and I could see she was really upset and didn't know a thing where she was and I sort of took over from there."

A Palmerston North great-grandfather has described the moment he found the little girl at the centre of a major police hunt standing crying on a street corner.

He said the pair drove around nearby Waterloo Crescent to spot a familiar house in case she was staying somewhere locally.

"She couldn't tell me where she came from. I said, 'We'll go around Waterloo Cres and you can pick out a place if you know'. We did that but we couldn't do any more."

He said because his wife, who did not know about the morning's events, was not home he went to his neighbour's house with the child and called police.

Mr Gilliland said police arrived and cordoned off the street.

He said he was just pleased he had been able to help in a small way.

"I just did something that you've got to do," he said. "I've had quite a morning of it."

Police said earlier they were looking for a four-door white sedan. Police initially said the girl was seen being pulled into what was described as a white-and-maroon-coloured, older-model Chevy sedan being driven by an older male.

The vehicle was described as old looking but possibly restored.

Police want to hear about any sightings of the vehicle, whose occupant may be acting suspiciously, in the wider Palmerston North area.

Any sightings should be reported immediately by calling 111.

A man living on Shamrock St near the school said he ran onto the street after hearing girls screaming.

Two girls were banging on the window of a car, in which another girl was inside.

"They were distressed."

Other neighbours also came to help, but the man would not comment further.

"Police have told me not to say anything."

Earlier today police swooped on the Manawatu township of Shannon, 31km southwest from where the young girl went missing in Palmerston North.

Locals reported a police helicopter circling above the town.

Numerous police cars were also seen in streets.

Club Hotel publican Brian Bishop said the helicopter was directly above the town and there was a large police presence.

Mr Bishop said he was contacted by his daughter to say police were looking for the little girl.

Shannon is on State Highway 57 and is the alternate main route south skirting the Tararua Ranges.

A woman who answered the phone at Te Kura o Takaro Primary School said a spokesperson -- either the principal or the board of trustees chairperson -- would speak to media later. She would not say when.