Every minute 4-year-old Shayla Phillips remains missing feels like an eternity for her mother, who last saw her playing in the backyard with two neighborhood dogs on Wednesday afternoon, now more than 24 hours ago. Every minute that also passes worries authorities who are increasingly concerned for the child’s welfare, knowing that the first 24 hours are crucial in any missing child case. “As we enter day two of the search for Shayla, increasing concerns are held for her welfare,” Chief inspector Gavin Hallett said Thursday morning. “Her mother is very stoic, very strong and positive, and is hopeful that we will find Shayla today.”
Bianca Phillips, the child’s mother, says her 8-year-old son was playing video games in the house when the younger child—who has long curly brown hair and was wearing pink leggings and rain boots—went outside to play with two dogs that had wandered over from a neighbor’s house, which her mother said was common, according to Australian media outlets.
When the mother went out to check on the little girl around 2:30 pm local time, about 30 minutes after she went outside, the child—and one of the dogs—was gone. She immediately searched the property, which butts up against bush land and what police describe as “undulating pastureland” in the Stormlea area of the Tasmanian peninsula.
She then went to the neighbor’s house, but did not find the child—or the missing dog. The mother called police who launched a massive search with more than 100 people along with thermal sensing drones, helicopters, horses and divers to try to penetrate the thick brush land. At 7:30 pm, searchers located the missing dog about a half mile from the isolated property, but little Shayla was no longer with him.
Chief Inspector Gavin Hallett told local reporters that the child’s mother said she loved to play hide-and-seek, but had ever only gone missing for around a quarter of an hour in the past. It is unclear whether the child was trying to hide from her mom when she disappeared. Hallett said that while they have not ruled out foul play, there is no reason at this moment to consider her disappearance suspicious. Instead they are focusing the search on the theory that the child wandered off with one of the dogs tagging along. “An indicator for us was that the dog was found in an area quite some distance away,” he told reporters. “If there had been some untoward activity, the dogs wouldn’t have been gone, they would’ve been here.”
Searchers worked overnight to clear local ponds, trenches and four nearby dams. The overnight temperature dipped to around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, which would be survivable, but chilly. The child was not wearing a jacket when she disappeared. Police say that early Thursday they have revisited many of the areas previously searched in case the child had been hiding or had fallen asleep—if she wandered off.