Non-verbal autistic teen Leif Courtney is “safe and well” at home after a massive community search discovered him unhurt on an anchored houseboat.
Non-verbal autistic teen Leif Courtney is “safe and well” at home after a massive community search discovered him unhurt on an anchored houseboat.

Community's joy as missing autistic teen found on houseboat

The tight-knit Central Coast community's mounting collective fears over an autistic teen who went missing for nearly 24 hours gave way to cheers of elation late Thursday when a massive search found the 13-year-old unhurt on a houseboat.

Non-verbal teen Leif Courtney is now "safe and well" at home with his mother after he was found alive just before 5pm.

Leif Courtney in the back seat of a car soon after being found. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Damian Shaw
Leif Courtney in the back seat of a car soon after being found. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Damian Shaw

Cheers went up at the local Rural Fire Service brigade shed, where search efforts were being co-ordinated, after NSW Police confirmed the good news.

Superintendent Kelly Phillips said police were overjoyed he had been found after he swam "fifty to one hundred metres" out to the houseboat moored off the Mooney Mooney Wharf.

"We're elated he's been ­located safe and well," Supt Phillips said.

"He's now with his mother and ambulance paramedics are now checking him out."

Leif received a big hug from his mum Leonie Morris at an emotional reunion at the same wharf shortly before the pair drove past the search headquarters.

A tearful Ms Morris ­embraced volunteers and Police Rescue officers, revealing that her son, who was last seen at her home on the ­Pacific Highway on Wednesday night, was "absolutely fine".

Leif Courtney with his mum Leonie Morris (rear) soon after being found. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Damian Shaw
Leif Courtney with his mum Leonie Morris (rear) soon after being found. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Damian Shaw

She also described the search effort, which took in police, SES, fire crews and more than 150 Central Coast community members, to find her little boy as "incredibly humbling".

"He's absolutely fine, he's fine … he got his way out to a houseboat and spent the night there," Ms Morris said.

"Everyone who searched, some people didn't sleep, those who co-ordinated, made food … thank you to ­absolutely everyone, it's incredibly humbling."

Among those receiving a tearful thank you was Leif's rescuer, local oyster farmer Brett Hogbin.

Mr Hogbin had been searching empty vessels moored around a nearby bay when he spotted Leif, and said he was "relieved" the young boy was OK.

"We looked for him all morning, drove past the same houseboat three or four times until we finally spotted him," Mr Hogbin said.

"He was happy to see us, dived straight onto the boat when he saw us, even if the (rescue helicopter) scared him a bit."

Leif’s mother Courtney hugging people just after her son was found.
Leif’s mother Courtney hugging people just after her son was found.

It was a jubilant end to a frantic search effort sparked by the youngster's disappearance about 7.30pm the previous night.

Earlier yesterday Leif's ­father Allen Courtney told The Daily Telegraph he was grateful to the community for their effort as he urged anyone who saw his son to not be afraid to ­approach him.

"He's not afraid of crowds. Please approach him if he's seen and just do your best."

Mr Courtney said while Leif was mostly non-verbal, he often "makes squealing noises or repeats things he's heard".

The close-knit Central Coast community quickly ­rallied to find Leif, with trains even suspended between Gosford and Cowan in both directions as the dramatic police operation unfolded.

Police focused their search efforts on tunnels and caves in the Mooney and Brooklyn area,  as well as waterways and re-examining previously searched areas.

There were serious fears for the boy's safety however, with one emergency services source revealing how Leif's recent fascination with roads had driven the hunt towards the perilous M1 Motorway.

Oyster farmer Brett Hogbin, who found Leif Courtney. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Damian Shaw
Oyster farmer Brett Hogbin, who found Leif Courtney. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Damian Shaw

Mooney Mooney resident Steve Pearson was among dozens of locals who joined the search, taking his boat out on a nearby river to scour mangroves.

"Everyone is concerned about this child. There were people out all night. I did hear people were out 20 minutes after he went missing," Mr Pearson said.

Castle Hill resident and family friend Chris Linardos, also part of the mission, des­cribed the groundswell of support from the community as inspiring.

"People have dropped everything to come and help the family. It's heartwarming," he said. "The fact everyone has come together to find this one boy."

He had also sent a heartfelt message to the family to remember that the community was "there for you".

Originally published as Central coast's joy as missing autistic teen found on houseboat

Leif’s mother Courtney celebrates after news he has been found.
Leif’s mother Courtney celebrates after news he has been found.

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