A 31-year-old man has been charged with the murder of a nine-year-old girl who went missing from a property in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, on Saturday.
The girl, who lived with her grandmother in Queensland, was holidaying with her mother in Mount Wilson – a small town near the top of the mountains which is home to just 100 people – when she disappeared from the wedding and function venue where the pair were staying on Thursday afternoon.
On Tuesday night, following a five-day search that involved hundreds of emergency personnel, volunteers and community members, detectives discovered human remains inside a barrel near the Colo River.
While they are yet to be formally identified, police say the remains are consistent with the missing girl.
New South Wales Police launched a strike force to investigate the girl’s disappearance after her mother reported it on Friday morning. On Saturday, they seized a white boat and a red ute from the property where she was staying; on Sunday they deployed divers to search an area near Windsor in Sydney's far north-west; and by Monday, the schoolgirl's disappearance was being treated as suspicious, prompting homicide detectives to join the investigation.
On Tuesday night police carried out their search at Colo River, about an hour from the Blue Mountains, using GPS data and CCTV, and located the barrel in a nearby bush. They arrested the accused in Surry Hills at about 8.30PM on Tuesday night.
“[His] movements escalated our scrutiny … Those included the purchase of a number of 20 kilogram sandbags from a hardware store [and] fuel for a boat,” NSW Police Deputy Commissioner David Hudson told the media.
The accused appeared via video link in Sydney’s central local court on Wednesday. His lawyer noted that he had been under long-term care for “mental health problems” and had been prescribed a fairly high dose of antipsychotic drugs for many years.
The girl’s mother has been in hospital since the search began on Friday, having suffered a medical episode following her daughter's disappearance. As a result, police have not yet been able to interview her.
The barrel has been transported to the Sydney morgue where the coroner will investigate the girl's cause of death.
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