BOP TIMES REPORTING TEAM - ANNA BOWDEN, NATALIE BRIDGES, FRANCES MORTON and YVETTE WAKELIN
"PANIC. Helplessness. I just couldn't do anything. I still can't believe it, I'm just grateful I am looking at her right now."
These are the emotional words that today spilled from the mother of the five-year-old Tauranga girl abducted on her way to school yesterday.
For 45 minutes of hell, the mother knew her daughter had been taken but did not know where she was.
The mother said she needed to be in Tauranga District Court today to face the 18-year-old Tauranga man charged with the abduction and four charges of indecent assault _ to see who could have allegedly done such a thing.
It also emerged today that other parents had seen a motorist in a white car trying to entice children into his car the day before.
The mother, who cannot be named for legal reasons, told the Bay of Plenty Times it was a crime that left her feeling helpless.
Her shy five-year-old daughter was lured into a vehicle with the promise of Christmas presents and pretence that her mother had given permission _ she was then abducted in front of her seven-year-old brother.
"I'm still in shock, I can't believe it. You hear about it happening to other people," the woman said.
"He told her that her mother said she would get Christmas presents [if she got in the car], he had a cellphone and said she could call on it. That's what made her think she was okay."
"Thank God, I can't say enough about my son," she said after the relief of being able to embrace her entire family _ and her precious daughter _ last night.
The seven-year-old brother was yesterday hailed by Detective Senior Sergeant Greg Turner as taking the first steps toward possibly saving her life. He had alerted a teacher within minutes of her getting inside the car.
The mother of the pair said she also couldn't give enough thanks to Tauranga Sergeant Dave Thompson, who found her so quickly.
"If it wasn't for those two, she probably wouldn't be here."
The seven-year-old hero was the man of the house last night, as the family struggled to cope with the kidnapping that held each of them in shock.
While families and schools in the Bay have been left reeling at the news, the shy five-year-old is too young to understand the enormity of what had happened.
"I don't think she's taken in the seriousness of it all, she wanted to go to school today," her mother said, her voice cracking.
Her youngest son and daughter had walked to school together for the past 3 months and had learned about road safety and stranger danger.
"What we would like to have known," the mother's partner told the Bay Times yesterday, "is our gratitude to the policeman who found her. We feel it's the most lucky thing that ever happened. She could have ended up at the bottom of those falls."
The alleged abduction and assault of the little girl came just hours after reports that a motorist in a white car was seen trying to entice children into his car.
A Welcome Bay father-of-two, who did want to be named, told the Bay of Plenty Times a man in a white car with no number plates tried to entice both his kids and his nephew into the vehicle on Wednesday afternoon.
The man allegedly told the three children _ who were playing outside their home _ that their mother wanted them to go with him.
The children's mother and aunt saw what was happening and ordered the youngsters, aged 6, 7 and 8, back inside.
"My wife came out and yelled at the kids to come in."
The police success in finding the girl after just 45 minutes with a man in a car at Kaiate Falls was due to a veteran policeman's "gut instinct".
Mr Thompson, from Greerton station, heard the call to join the search and immediately thought of the isolated falls.
"I just had a feeling that might be a good spot to go," he said.
"That five minutes was the most significant of my career, especially for that little girl."
At a press conference yesterday afternoon, Mr Turner said that it was "substantial local knowledge" and "30 years of policing" that led Mr Thompson to the accused's car so promptly.
He added that it had been a difficult and traumatic day for all involved but that the immediacy of the boy's and the school's reaction to the situation should be commended.
"Clearly, it's a nightmare for police, the teachers and more importantly the family. But we are very pleased to say that the girl is now back with her parents. It's been a traumatic event for her, the seven-year-old boy and all the family."
An immense Bay of Plenty police operation was deployed after the school was quick to report the information they had received from the girl's brother.
An ambulance, all available police cars and police dogs surrounded the area leading up to Kaiate Falls, and motorists entering the area were stopped and questioned, said a witness at the scene yesterday.
When asked about the safety of other children in the city, Mr Turner said: "Western Bay of Plenty parents have nothing to fear as an arrest has been made."
He confirmed that police were investigating a link between the abduction and reports that a male attempted to lure two or three young children into a car on Wednesday.
Police are interested in any sightings of a white 1991 Mitsubishi Lancer in the Welcome Bay urban and rural areas on December 14 and on the morning of December 15.
They also urge anyone who has recently had a number plate stolen from their vehicle, even if they have already reported it previously, to come forward.
The accused man also faces a further charge of robbery.