Today it is one year since Belgian backpacker Théo Hayez walked out of Cheeky Monkey’s in Byron Bay – he was last sighted by a security camera as he walked away from the club.
From then until now volunteers and police (and then just volunteers), have been searching for the much-loved young man.
Anyone who has been to Byron Bay in the last 12 months would have undoubtedly seen a photo of Théo on a noticeboard or a lamp post. It would be safe to say he has been the most recognisable face in the town for a year.
Théo arrived in Australia in late 2018 on a working holiday visa and was due to fly home to Belgium a week after his disappearance.
Lisa Hayez reported Théo missing
His cousin Lisa Hayez had spent two months with Théo in Melbourne earlier in 2019 and she had been in regular contact with him. She saw him five days before he disappeared and on June 3, when she had been unable to contact him by phone, she called the Wake Up! backpackers hostel where he had been staying, and they called the police.
It wasn’t until June 7 that a media alert was sent out and the public search began.
Soon after, Théo’s father Laurent arrived in Australia to help with the search. He begged the public in a heart-rending message to the media to help him find his son. ’When I left Belgium I promised Hayez’s little brother, Lucas, I would bring his brother home, please help me keep my promise to him.’
Laurent and Lisa’s hopes of finding Théo
That week Laurent and Lisa spoke exclusively to Echonetdaily about Théo and their hopes for finding him.
Laurent was very positive about a good outcome and said Théo had plans to return to Belgium and go to uni to study mathematics and environmental technologies. Laurent also said Théo had a plan to invent a car with no impact on the environment. ‘He’s a very clever guy.’
Théo’s mother arrived in the country to help with the search and hundreds of locals and visitors spent their days combing the area for any trace of Théo. At the end of June the family met with media to express their gratitude to the community and ask again for any information that might help them find their son.
On July 3, the NSW Police announced that they had officially suspended the search for the Belgian backpacker and in July Echonetdaily spoke to Laurent who said he was returning to Belgium but he would be back. ‘We are leaving on Saturday,’ he said. ‘It is important that we go home and see family and spend time with Théo’s little brother Lucas.’
In mid-July a cap very like the one Théo was wearing was found near Tallow Beach, but at this stage it would appear that DNA found is inconclusive.
In September, the community gathered in Byron Bay to remind the community that Théo was still missing and that his family and friends and dozens of volunteers have not given up the search.
Supporters joined Théo’s family and friends at a sunset gathering on Clarkes Beach to bring awareness to Théo’s disappearance. The event was also streamed to the people closest to Théo in Belgium.
It’s been a year
A year later, many believe that Théo was not alone and that somebody in the community knows more than they are telling.
Théo’s godfather Jean-Philippe ‘JP’ Pector , who has been the family contact throughout the last 12 months, spoke to media yesterday from Belgium.
‘Not having answers to our questions now for a year has been like a torture, It’s a constant emotional and mental torture of not knowing with certainty what exactly happened to Théo on that night,’ he said.
JP says that family believe Théo might have been the victim of foul play. ‘He may have met people after leaving the bar. It was a Friday night in Byron Bay. It’s really unlikely that no-one would have seen him or he wouldn’t have met anyone in town.’
JP also says the community support has been a great comfort to the family. ’It’s immense – it’s really heartwarming and really helps us to heal our broken heart.’
JP also wants to remind the community that the family still needs answers. ‘If anyone has a little bit of information or saw something on that night and don’t want to talk, there is a way to contact us on the Looking4Theo website – come with information if you have something that can help us understand what happened.’
Vinciane Delforge et Laurent Hayez
Théo’s parents released a statement earlier this week:
‘We would like to thank the public for supporting us through this very difficult year. The generosity of strangers has blown us away and continues to help us endure this nightmare.
‘We miss our son tremendously and together, we must find out what happened to him.
‘One year on, we believe that there is much more to Théo’s story than has been brought to light. Théo’s family and friends, those living in Byron Bay and everyone who is concerned for the safety of young travellers are eager for the full story of that night to be understood.
‘We have high hopes in the work of the NSW Coroner and her dedicated team of lawyers, and we continue to believe that somebody out there holds information that could bring new evidence to light.
‘We are begging for witnesses to come forward. We continue our plea to anyone who might be withholding information to come forward.
‘We know that many people are struggling at the moment and we are so grateful for all the different ways that people continue to show their support and their love.
‘The support that we receive online matters enormously. We know that we are not alone and every message, drawing or photo with Theo’s name holds us up and allows us to continue this journey.
‘When you light a candle, make a mandala or think of a song, we love to know that you did that for Théo.
‘Please share online all the beautiful ways that you show that Théo matters to you 12 months on using the hashtag #lookingfortheo.
‘Thank you for keeping him in your thoughts and for continuing to tell Théo’s story. We would like to ask the media to respect our privacy during this, particularly difficult time.
‘Our family and friends in Australia are doing a fantastic job of keeping the search alive and we have no additional comment to make, other than asking you all to please keep Théo in your hearts and minds.’
Vinciane Delforge et Laurent Hayez
Tweed/Byron police statement today
The Tweed/Byron Police made a statement early this morning to mark a year since Théo disappeared.
The statement said detectives are continuing their inquiries as they prepare a brief of evidence on behalf of the NSW Coroner.
Police say they are actively engaged with the NSW Coroner’s Court as well as Théo’s family and friends here in Australia and in Belgium to ensure answers are provided to Théo’s loved ones.
A police spokesperson said investigators from the Tweed/Byron Police District would like to thank the community for their continued support, as they acknowledge the first anniversary of the disappearance of Belgian man, Theo Hayez, on Friday 31 May 2019.
‘Officers would like to particularly thank and acknowledge the support of the volunteers and Byron Bay community members who have assisted over the past 365 days in the search for Théo.
Tonight in Byron Bay
The Byron community will remember Théo this evening at sunset. Due to current health restrictions, they will live stream an event on Facebook.
A post on the Looking for Théo Hayez Facebook page says the event is to acknowledge this date, to honour Théo, his family and friends, and to convey their steadfast quest for answers.
‘We invite you to join us in watching the magnificent Byron Bay sunset at 4.45pm AEST (8.45am in Belgium). Then, after a short break, we will return at approximately 5.15pm (9.15am in Belgium) to share something very special with you all’.
For more information, visit the Facebook page or the official Looking4Theo website.