The story, spotted by the Daily Beast on Thursday, boasts a seemingly endless series of unexpected developments starting with the initial disappearance itself on Sept. 11. 34-year-old Tom Phillips—as well as children Jayda (8), Ember (5), and Maverick (6)—were formally reported missing on Sept. 13. At one point, Phillips’ car was discovered unattended, with the keys still inside.
A massive search was launched that incorporated land, air, and water methods. The expansive search effort, however, was later called off mere days before Phillips and the children suddenly reappeared. The man’s sister, Rozzi Pethybridge, told regional outlet Newshub that he “just walked in the door.” Stating that she didn’t want to go against her brother’s wishes, the sister added that he had been “in a helpless place” and found a “safe place to clear his head.”
At a press conference, Inspector Will Loughrin noted that Phillips was well-versed in matters of the outdoors.
“The family were living in some form of tent in a dense bush area. … This was a family that experience 17 days of hell, really,” Loughrin said during the presser, a portion of which is available to watch up top. “This was a community that experienced 17 days of hell.”
Among the details of the incident that have yet to be determined—at least at the time of this writing—were what the father and the children ate during this period, as well as what the impetus was for the initial disappearance. The mother of the children, police said, is “relieved.”