A professional bush tracker is trying to help solve the mystery of how a three-year-old boy was able to survive for four days in the Australian bush.
Jake Cassar said he could not rule out foul play and that, among other scenarios, he was considering whether AJ Elfalak had been abducted.
The young child was found on Monday after helicopters spotted him drinking water from a creek just 500m from his home.
The area had been thoroughly searched after he went missing on Friday, leading experts and his family to question whether AJ travelled or been taken somewhere else before returning to the spot.
‘I’m here to keep an open mind,’ Mr Cassar told Daily Mail Australia on Tuesday from the Elfalaks’ home in Putty, 150km northwest of Sydney.
He has been there since Saturday, volunteering his expertise to help untangle the riddle of AJ’s disappearance.
‘The way I see it, if you’ve got two feet and a heartbeat, anything is possible,’ Mr Cassar said. ‘Doesn’t matter if you’re a 97-year-old woman or a three-year-old boy.’
The family of little AJ Elfalak is relying on the opinion of professional bush tracker Jake Cassar (pictured) to help them understand how the toddler spent three nights alone in the unforgiving terrain behind their home
Mr Cassar told Daily Mail Australia on Tuesday he couldn’t rule out that the three-year-old was abducted, and said his job was to consider all possible scenarios. ‘I’m here to keep an open mind,’ he said. Mr Cassar (right) is pictured with AJ’s mother Kelly
Superintendent Tracey Chapman said having wombat holes and access to water helped increase AJ’s chances of survival. AJ is pictured at home on Tuesday morning as his family celebrates his safe return
Mr Cassar queried whether AJ had actually travelled further from home and somehow looped back to the nearby spot where he was found, pointing out that the area had been explore extensively in the days the child was missing.
Investigators are considering how the toddler, who has autism and is non-verbal, could have survived outside in wet weather, and without anything to eat for 72 hours.
Temperatures dropped to 2C over the weekend and AJ emerged with just a few scratches to show for three nights alone in the bush.
Mr Cassar has stuck close to the Elfalak family since arriving and was spotted on Tuesday heading into the ditch where AJ was found.
The expert tracker said he planned to venture out with his search party and explore the area, looking for any potential paths AJ might have taken.
AJ was found sitting in a shallow, muddy creek, the entrance to which is so steep that even adults would struggle to clamber down.
Daily Mail Australia photographs taken from the base of the creek show the uneven, rocky terrain leading down to the water.
There is what appears to be a barely visible path at the entrance, but it remains unclear how the young child was able to make it down safely.
AJ was found sitting in a shallow, muddy creek at the base of what appeared to be a barely visible path, but the question remains as to how he made it down such a steep track safely
Mr Cassar said he planned to head down with his search party and explore the area to find any potential paths that AJ might have taken. The creek where AJ was found in pictured
Mr Cassar queried whether AJ (left and right) had in fact travelled further from this family home and somehow looped back to the dam where he was found, which is just 500m from his family home and was explored extensively in the days he was missing
Mr Cassar explained it was very possible that, even with hundreds of volunteers, little AJ avoided detection while in the bush. He is pictured (left) with AJ’s mother Kelly
Detectives confirmed an investigation was ongoing into the 72 hours AJ was missing
It is apparent that even if he did make it down unaided, he likely would not have been able to get out again.
‘I couldn’t get down there,’ Kim Grace, who owns nearby Grey Gum Cafe and knows the Elfalaks said.
‘It’s near impossible. I can’t see how he ever would have gotten down there on his own.’
Ms Grace, along with several of her colleague at her cafe, is suspicious that there might be more to the story of AJ’s disappearance.
But Mr Cassar explained it was very possible that, even with hundreds of volunteers searching for him, that AJ avoided detection while in the bush.
He said search parties tended to stay in straight lines and follow a near perfect trajectory from point A to point B, whereas somebody who is lost intuitively does the opposite.
‘When we’re lost, we almost always walk at a slight curve to the right or left, therefore it’s easy to travel in directions that might be missed by search parties,’ Mr Cassar said.
He hoped to provide the Elfalaks with some information that could help determine whether AJ wandered off on his own or was abducted, as they initially believed.
A relative, who said he lived at the home with the Elfalaks, said the family was performing ‘their own investigation’.
‘We’d like to think the police are still investigating, but they’re not here are they,’ the man said.
Detectives confirmed that an investigation into AJ’s disappearance was ongoing.
It is understood 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.
Police were also baffled that the child turned up just 500 meters away from the family home, potentially having evaded detection by highly-trained sniffer dogs since Friday.
A helicopter fitted with infrared technology and hundreds of searchers also scoured the nearby bush searching for AJ.
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.
Superintendent Tracey Chapman said on Tuesday morning that the presence of wombat holes and water helped increase AJ’s chances of survival.
When asked about the speculation surrounding the disappearance, she said: ‘We are certainly happy with where things are at the moment.
‘We’ll continue that investigation to be entirely comfortable, but from our perspective it’s simply a good- news story.
‘We have a three-year-old boy who many people probably expected was not alive and he’s been located and been returned to his family.’
‘When we’re lost, we almost always walk at a slight curve to the right or left, therefore it’s easy to travel in directions that might be missed by search parties,’ Mr Cassar said. The area where AJ was found is pictured
Mr Cassar (pictured on Tuesday) hoped to provide the family some further guidance as to whether AJ likely wandered off on his own or was abducted, which is what the family initially believed
‘When we’re lost, we almost always walk at a slight curve to the right or left, therefore it’s easy to travel in directions that might be missed by search parties,’ Mr Cassar said. Bushland near where AJ was found is pictured
On Tuesday, Putty Community Initiative Facebook page reported a confirmed case of Covid at a nearby monastery which had sent volunteers to help in the search.
The community group called on any locals who offered assistance or came into contact with the family to get tested for the virus immediately.
Ms Grace said she’d been serving customers who were assisting with the search all week, many of whom she didn’t recognise.
‘They were out-of-towners,’ she said. ‘A lot of them certainly weren’t from here, but some of them I’ve seen around before.’
Many of AJ’s loved ones had earlier claimed they lived at the Putty address and had not travelled from Covid hotspots in Sydney.
The Elfalak family only moved into the home permanently three months ago, reportedly to escape Covid-19.
AJ’s godfather Alan Hashem, who served as a spokesman for the family after the toddler disappeared, is the founder of anti-vaccine movement ‘Our Voices Matter’.