Yallingup rescue: Jimmy’s mum Michelle Buckley feared she would have to ‘bury son’ before miracle SW rescue

Headshot of Sarah Steger
Sarah StegerThe West Australian
Email Sarah Steger
VideoJames "Jimmy" O'Neill's parents Michelle Buckley and Chris O'Reilly have talked about the moment they thought their son would end up dead before he was miraculously found in Yallingup bushland.

The mother of a three-year-old boy who sparked a massive, 12-hour search in horrendous weather conditions through thick bushland in the State’s South West has opened up about the dreadful ordeal, saying she thought she would have to bury her son.

Speaking to media outside the Karli Way holiday home in the locality of Wyadup this morning, Michelle Buckley confessed she had all but given up ever seeing James “Jimmy” O’Reilly again.

“I think once it started getting to sunset, I was really starting to panic because I didn’t want him to be out there during the night being such a windy and rainy day. He would have been freezing,” she said.

I thought I was going to have to bury my son.

Crying, the mother-of-two said she started to lose hope once nightfall approached.

“I was just losing hope, I honestly thought we were going to … find him dead,” she said.

“I didn’t think I was going to find him alive, I thought I was going to have to bury my son.

“It was a really really long day. I couldn’t do anything, I was told to stay here (at the holiday house), I couldn’t go out and look for him or anything … I felt hopeless, like I couldn’t do anything.”

Her partner and Jimmy’s dad, Chris O’Reilly, said the “terrible” weather had hampered his hopes as well.

“It was terrible conditions, the weather was about nine degrees outside, it was raining and hail. When that hail came in, it just made it even worse,” he said.

“It was a seriously happy — happiest ending that I think anyone could have asked for in a situation like that.”

Jimmy and his family arrived back at their Airbnb after a night at Busselton Health Campus about 9am today.

The family was escorted out of the hospital by one police crew, who followed them on their way to the Yallingup property for several minutes before turning back.

Jimmy had wandered into the bush surrounding the Airbnb property while his mum was feeding her other son, a 10-month-old baby boy named Henry.

He was last seen outside the holiday accommodation about 7.30am, wearing nothing but his white Spiderman pyjamas and a pair of dark blue wellington boots.

The last time Ms Buckley saw Jimmy, he was playing with the family’s two dogs.

More than 12 hours later, after scores of SES crews, neighbours and members of the close-knit community swarmed the area to join the frantic search, little Jimmy was found.

James ‘Jimmy’ O’Reilly.
Camera IconJames ‘Jimmy’ O’Reilly. Credit: Jackson Flindell/The West Australian

The boy was discovered by his grandad and uncle about 1km from where he vanished, and in the same direction search crews had looked earlier in the day after discovering a tiny footprint.

But after failing to locate the boy, crews turned their attention south, where the thick scrub and rough terrain carries on downhill.

The decision was made based on experiences from past searches.

Police said typically, when a child got lost in the bush, they tend to find shelter, hide, or walk downhill.

But Jimmy seemed to favour the path less travelled, picking an uphill climb over what would have surely been an easier trek.

The little champ was found by his grandfather Paul and uncle John who had rushed down from Perth to join the search earlier in the day just minutes before the miracle discovery.

“Chris’s grandad got here, and literally five minutes after he arrived, Chris’s mum came running up the stairs saying they found him,” Ms Buckley said.

“I just fell to the floor.”

Mr O’Reilly said the news had left him overjoyed.

Pictured is the home from where James went missing.
Camera IconPictured is the home from where James went missing. Credit: 7NEWS

“I could have run on water,” he said laughing.

“He was definitely cold, he was afraid and he was hungry. It was sad seeing him like that. But he basically walked out of it with barely a scratch on him, which is crazy..”

Before Jimmy was found about 7pm yesterday, his grandad had been repeatedly calling out his name — “James O’Reilly!” — near a firebreak to the north east of the holiday accommodation, which had been checked earlier in the day.

Moments later, Jimmy answered his “poppy’s” desperate calls.

“So it was his uncle John and poppy Paul that found him and also my friends Kylie and Rod — they went out in their car to go on the four-wheel-drive tracks and just look for him and they happened to be in the same spot as John and Paul were in,” Ms Buckley said.

“They put him in the car and brought him back to us. We brought him inside, took off his pyjamas and wrapped him up in a blanket.

“He was smiling, talking to (his baby brother) and he said ‘I went out into the bush’, and it was just the most beautiful moment.

“I’m so thankful. There was a lot of emotion going on, everyone was crying and laughing.”

The mother of a three-year-old boy who sparked a massive, 12-hour search in Yallingup has opened up about the ordeal, revealing she didn’t ‘think I was gonna find him alive’.
Camera IconThe mother of a three-year-old boy who sparked a massive, 12-hour search in Yallingup has opened up about the ordeal, revealing she didn’t ‘think I was gonna find him alive’. Credit: Jackson Flindell/The West Australian

Water and Oreos, as well as a sneaky Snickers bar were among the first things Jimmy, who was understandably very hungry and significantly dehydrated, wolfed down after he was rescued.

One of the other things he did after he was back in this parents’ arms was express his concern over the location of his stuffed toy rabbit.

“Where’s my bunny,” he asked his mum.

Ms Buckley said that was the only thing her son had been worried about.

Mr O’Reilly agreed, adding: “He said to me ‘I can’t go walking in the bush because I’ll leave my bunny rabbit and I’ll lose it’, but no he actually left it at the house before (he left), which made the situation 100-times more worse for me, because he takes that bunny everywhere, and he was alone and afraid”.

Other than some thirst and hunger, Jimmy was relatively unscathed despite his 12-hour ordeal.

While transporting him to hospital last night as a precaution, paramedics checked his temperature — which came back normal.

His parents also confirmed their son hadn’t had blue lips, and that he was just a little cold.

And while the three-year-old reported seeing a snake on his adventures, tests had found no venom in his blood.

News of Jimmy’s safe return prompted thousands of people across WA, all who had been following news updates all day, to congratulate Jimmy’s family and friends and breathe a combined sigh of relief.

Police air wing during the search.
Camera IconPolice air wing during the search. Credit: Jackson Flindell/The Sunday Times

It also brought on a loud “Whoop!” at the Incident Command Centre some 4km from the Airbnb, as dozens of volunteer search crews cheered at the news of Jimmy’s safe return.

“Pure panic” coursed through Ms Buckley and Mr O’Reilly the moment they realised Jimmy was gone.

“We just need to find him. I honestly thought he did not go far, I just couldn’t understand how in that short amount of time he got that far that he couldn’t hear me yelling his name — he must have just bolted after a kangaroo or something I don’t know,” Ms Buckley said.

Mr O’Reilly said: “I don’t think I ever so sick in my stomach as to what had happened. When I went out there initially, I just kept looking and looking and the hours were just passed by, I honestly just broke down out there, on my own I just broke down and I thought he was gone and I couldn’t find him and if I wasn’t gonna find him then yeah”.

“It was just gut wrenching,” he said.

He added that after their reunion, Jimmy spoke of some of his adventures, telling his dad he’d been looking for the house.

Ms Buckley said Jimmy had also spotted the helicopter on one of its many laps above the trees.

“He did see the helicopter but he said it was very loud so I think he might have been scared of it. We don’t think he saw the drone,” Ms Buckley added.

Earlier in the day, a drone was used to fly over the canopies of forest on all sides of the property in an attempt to find Jimmy.

It broadcast a recorded message from Jimmy’s mum, in which she said: “Hi James, it’s Mummy. If you can see something flying in the air above you and it’s got flashing red and blue lights, you need to follow it, OK. Then you can find your way home”.

Volunteers help with the search.
Camera IconVolunteers help with the search. Credit: Jackson Flindell/The Sunday Times

As darkness settled in this evening the fears for Jimmy were about the weather and the dangers of hypothermia, with hail, rain and a wind chill of zero degrees just some of the conditions both Jimmy and searchers had to endure.

Some locals also voiced concern about snakes at this time of year.

As darkness fell on the densely-forested spot near Yallingup, locals who’d spent all day frantically looking for the toddler in atrocious weather — including hail — grew more concerned, their spirits as dampened as their clothes.

The scenes around the house were frantic. At the start of the day neighbour Eamonn McGrath, who lives a mere 100m from where Jimmy vanished, woke to the sound of screams.

“The boy’s dad was yelling and yelling ‘Jimmy! Jimmy!’ At first I thought he was calling his dogs, but then something changed in his voice, and he was screaming.

“He just kept screaming. I couldn’t see him but I could hear him. And the mum was just distraught.”

Mr McGrath was the first member of the public on scene and alerted the rest of the street.

Within half an hour a swathe of neighbours swarmed Karli Rise and began scouring dense bushland.

The search grew in size during the morning, with scores of people arriving to help in any way.

State Emergency Service crews scoured 10sqkm of ground from morning to dusk.

“The terrain around the holiday home is very thick, dense bush and very difficult for people to walk through,” Insp. Voyez said.

They were assisted from above by Police air wing, which includes the helicopter and drone. Local police forces, Busselton detectives, the canine section and mounted police from Perth all pitched in.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails