There has been a bittersweet reaction when a King Country man and his three sons emerged from the woods alive after being missing for nearly three weeks; While everyone is delighted to be alive, many people wonder: how did it come to this?
Thomas Phillips, 34, and Jayda, 8, Maverick, 6, and Ember, 5, disappeared from Marokopa on September 12 and a long search failed to find any sign of them.
Police said they entered the family’s home yesterday after reports that a man and three children had been seen a day earlier near Kiritehere Beach, where Phillips’s ute was discovered semi-submerged in the waves little after the search started.
Waikato West Area Commander Will Loughrin said yesterday that police were in the early stages of figuring out exactly what happened, but confirmed that the family had been living in a tent about 15 kilometers from Kiritehere Beach.
Phillips has a house in Otorohanga, while the family farm is about 5 km inland from Marokopa. Away from Marokopa Road, enjoy a commanding view of the valley of the same name.
Last night, the amount of pint-sized rubber boots on the porch was a tell-tale sign that the kids were safe at home.
Inside the children could be seen playing and they and Tom Phillips were being supported by the extended family.
Elder Marokopa Hemi Kete said that he had called the farm upon hearing the news.
“Through a phone call a few minutes ago, the children are happy, playing with each other, playing with parents and happy to have a good shower, so that’s where they are right now: happy with grandparents.”
Kete said it was wonderful that the family came back alive.
“It is a great blessing in the whole community that Tom and his children have found themselves well walking on Mother Earth; that is a great blessing.
“Tom and his children are with the father, mother and grandparents and they are a happy family at the moment.”
But he was confused about the circumstances of the disappearance.
“Yeah, a little disappointed in Tom with his stupidity at this time of year.
“He knows this area very well. Taught by his parents and grandparents and that was how disappointing Tom had to do it here, but hey, let’s thank the search and rescue and everyone involved because they are home.”
Kete was also left wondering how they survived.
“I have no idea. We’re asking the same question: How the hell did he survive?”
She also didn’t know why they had gone crazy in the first place.
In Otorohanga, Patrick Carr said his children went to school with the young Phillips before their father decided to homeschool them.
He was also thankful that everyone was safe, but said Phillips should have told people what he was doing.
“You know, why would you want to do that? I mean without telling anyone, like, the rest of their whānau and everything that would worry them and that sort of thing.”
‘He’s dad, it’s his choice’
Reuben Warren, who was on Main Street picking up some lunch, was also excited about the positive result.
“I’m happy they’re alive. I’m happy they’re safe and sound. Really. It’s the best result really.”
Warren, an avid Bushman, said he had stayed in the bush for so long, but not with children.
He didn’t think Phillips had done much wrong.
“Look, everyone has a right to their lifestyle, their point of view. If he was safe, he was fine. I think he probably let some people know where he was, but if he’s not a man, he’s a father, it’s your choice.
“It’s not what we’re used to; it’s a bit out of the ordinary and it’s a bit more difficult to accept. He’s their father. They’re obviously safe and well and it’s a bit different than most of society is. accustomed.
But a Marokopa woman, who was in Otorohanga on business and did not want to be identified, was upset with Phillips.
She said her family had searched the shoreline of her farm every day for two weeks and she was upset.
The woman said she did not believe Phillips would have disappeared for so long with three children under the age of 10 without outside help.
That was an opinion shared by other Marokopa locals, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.
They said they had told police that Phillips was most likely in the bush and that the submerged ute was a decoy.
They were also unhappy about the confusion the community had gone through and the fact that they had missed two weeks of the trash season.