New Zealand father Tom Phillips, whose disappearance along with his three of his kids nearly two years ago left the children’s mother and other siblings devastated, has been spotted at a Bunnings store.
The sighting at one of the hardware chain’s outlets last Wednesday ignited a fresh appeal from NZ Police to locate them, and confirm the welfare of the children.
The three missing children — Jayda, 10, Maverick, 8, and Ember, 7 — were not spotted in public with the 36-year-old Marokopa man, when tips to police began flooding in last week.
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Several sightings of a stolen Toyota Hilux ute, understood to be driven by Phillips, were made last Wednesday from the Waikato region where he is well known. This included a sighting of Phillips wearing a facemask and beanie at Bunnings in Te Rapa, NZ Police said.
“We believe Tom is going to some effort to conceal his identity,” Waikato District commander superintendent Bruce Bird said.
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Police found the ute on Friday, but neither Phillips nor the three kids were located.
Police believe Phillips was stocking up on supplies and they have urged locals in the area to report any thefts from properties or vehicles, including fuel, food and other supplies.
Tom Phillips, 36, who has been missing for nearly two years with his three children, was spotted at Bunnings last Wednesday. Credit: NZ PolicePhillips was reportedly seen driving a stolen ute, which was later located by police. Credit: NZ Police
The children were last seen in December 2021 at a farm belonging to Phillips’s parents, but it’s not the first time they and their father have vanished.
Three months earlier, in September 2021, the four were officially reported missing by family, and Phillips’s abandoned car was found with waves crashing against it at Kiritehere Beach.
It triggered a multi-agency search through dense bushland and rugged coastline, which was suspended after 12 days.
After what the family called “17 days of hell”, Phillips and the kids reappeared safely at the family farm, and with the dad telling police they had been camping in dense bushland.
He was charged with wasteful deployment of police personnel and resources, but he and the kids vanished again in December 2021, a month before his scheduled court date.
Phillips was spotted in February 2022, when police said: “Tom returned to a family member’s home in the middle of the night to take supplies.”
No children were sighted with him then, nor in the several times Phillips was spotted in the months after. All sightings were unsuccessfully followed up by NZ Police, they said.
Wider family worry about welfare
The wider family and NZ Police are desperate to confirm the welfare of the children, who have not been seen in years.
Police warn that available images of the children may no longer look like them.
“They will be taller; they will have either lost baby teeth or started to get their adult teeth, and will likely be wearing their hair in different styles. They could also be using different names,” NZ Police commander inspector Will Loughrin said this time last year.
“I want to acknowledge both the children’s mother, and Tom’s wider family, who continue to be living with extreme stress and anxiety.”
Wider family fear for the welfare of the three missing children, Jayda, 10, Maverick, 8, and Ember, 7. Credit: Facebook
The mother and siblings of the children, who wish to remain anonymous, have released several statements during the time the children have been missing, sharing birthday wishes for the kids, along with accusations that someone has been helping Phillips to hide them.
“Our family, like the Police, believe Tom and the kids are getting help from someone which has allowed them to stay off the grid for the past six months,” the mother of the children said last year in a statement shared by police.
“People will understand our wider family situation is complex, but putting that aside, our focus is solely on the children and putting their wellbeing first.
“With each birthday and holiday, I hope Tom has realised the children need so much more in life than the isolated one he is providing,” the sister of the children said in a statement shared on social media.
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