Body of 10-year-old found after three days of searching
They searched thousands of hectares, through the forest, above the forest, in streets and across hundreds of backyards for Alex Fisher.
In the end, after three days of looking, a body believed to be the 10-year-old's was found close to Waitarere Beach, just a few hundred metres from where he was last seen, and not far from the fire station where the large search operation set up headquarters.
For his family, friends and the searchers who worked tirelessly, it was "absolutely the worst outcome", said Manawatu area commander Inspector Sarah Stewart.
His family were "devastated", she said, after personally delivering the news to them.
The cause of death was yet to be established, but police had started a homicide investigation.
This morning, around 8.30am, the curtains were drawn at the family home.
A sign requesting privacy was placed outside the fence, beside the driveway.
Ohau School principal Kathy Trevena Brown said she would meet with the family today.
Alex's family learned shortly after 1pm yesterday their boy was believed to have been found dead.
Ms Trevena-Brown said the school community had "lost a lovely member of our family" and "missed him dearly'.
In a statement about "the tragic loss of our lovely Alex," Ms Trevana-Brown said: "Alex was a delightful student who did find some aspects of school life challenging but he was up for it.
"He was determined to give everything his best shot.
"He didn't give up and persevered."
She said the school was "so proud of him".
"He was such a polite well-mannered boy, who involved himself in school activities. He was a member of our Kapa Haka group, and he was in the softball, basketball and water polo teams."
She said student and parents were being supported.
School representatives would be meeting with the family today to discuss being involved in Alex's funeral or memorial.
"Our children will be able to prepare some memories such as school photo albums put together for the family. This will give them a positive focus as we move forward."
Man appears in court
A local man appeared in the Levin District Court on Wednesday on a single charge of possessing a knife in the area where the search for Alex was focused.
He was granted interim name suppression and remanded in custody by consent. The court heard at least one further, unspecified charge was likely.
Alex was found just south of the main beach entrance in the tight-knit Waitarere community of 500 residents.
Last night, in front of the beachside houses, with Kapiti Island in the distance, the body was removed soon after sunset.
Earlier, forensic scientists scoured the area. Police stopped traffic along the beach and talked to members of the public.
A resident said the locals were feeling spooked. Her beachfront property looks onto the site where the body was found. She had not seen anything suspicious.
"We all watch out for each other but I never saw a thing. It's close to a walkway that has been regularly used over the last few days."
The search had been centred on Waitarere Forest, but she knew Alex was not there because "no one could get lost in there".
The last confirmed sighting of Alex was at the Waitarere Four Square on Monday night with his adult brother Eric.
Last night, its staff echoed the description of the community as being full of people who looked out for each other.
It's unknown why Alex was in Waitarere. He lived with his parents about 10km away in a quiet residential part of Levin with modest houses and wide streets.
A woman who lives a few doors from Alex's family said the 10-year-old was not the kind of boy to run away.
"He's just a normal happy boy. He's always smiling, always polite. His parents love him to bits. He's their baby."
Alex was a student at Ohau School, just south of Levin. Its August 2014 newsletter reports he won a bus award.
He was also a member of the 22-strong St Mary's Scout group in Levin. Scout leader Barry Fitzgerald said Alex was a "typical 10-year-old young fella", eager to learn and enthusiastic about Scouting. The wider community also paid tribute to Alex last night.
A community in mourning
The Boardroom bar on Oxford St, Levin, has written "RIP Alex Fisher" in large lettering on its main-road facing signs.
Duty manager Hayden Davidson said the whole community was devastated by yesterday's news.
"Everyone is feeling it, it's affected everyone. He's only 10 years old, he hadn't even started living his life yet, and the heartache of losing a child, that must just be absolutely unbearable."
Mr Davidson did not know the family, but the bar had set up a donation box, which was filling quickly.
More than 130 people, many of them locals, helped look for Alex.
Yesterday morning, police were still treating the operation as a search and rescue, and had not given up hope of finding him alive.
But more than 60 hours after he went missing, there were serious, growing concerns for his health and safety.
Mid-afternoon, police told media about the sad discovery, after Ms Stewart had visited Alex's family.
Despite the find, police still have plenty to do, she said, appealing to anyone who saw Alex and Eric on or before Monday night to get in touch.
"Our investigation is likely to take some time as we build up a picture of the events that have led to this tragic outcome."
- Manawatu Guardian, NZME