- Jeremiah “Jayo” Rivers told family he was moving back to the Northern Territory
- He was last seen walking away from a campsite near the remote town of Noccundra
- An inquest into his disappearance is set to be held in November this year
The friend of a man who vanished on a road trip in outback Queensland told police he had been hallucinating before he went missing and was looking for somewhere to swim, a court has heard.
Jeremiah “Jayo” Rivers was travelling with six other men when he was last seen walking away from a campsite near the remote town of Noccundra in the south-west of the state in October 2021.
Despite an extensive land, air and water search, the 27-year-old Indigenous man, originally from the East Kimberley and raised in the Northern Territory, could not be found.
His disappearance is now the subject of an inquest due to be held in November this year, with a coroner tasked to try and determine what happened to Jayo.
During a preliminary hearing on Tuesday, the Coroners Court in Brisbane was told Jayo had been living in in New South Wales with a friend, Jojo Kantilla, and had told family the pair would be moving back to the Northern Territory.
As part of this move, they joined a group of five other men, one of which they knew, with a plan to travel together in two 4WD’s and camp and hunt pigs along the way.
On the drive, during Queensland’s tough border restrictions, the court was told Jayo and Mr Kantilla had been drinking beer and smoking methylamphetamine.
Mr Kantilla later told police Jayo had been “loud, drunk and hallucinating at the time”.
Counsel Assisting the Coroner Sarah Lio-Willie told the court not long after the group stopped at Wippo Creek to set up camp, Jayo walked past another man in the group at a waterhole and said he wanted to go swimming but would like to find “clearer water”.
“This is the last known time anyone saw Jayo,” she said.
The court heard Mr Kantilla searched for Jayo until nightfall, but after failing to find him, he said he did not want to call police because the group were afraid of being prosecuted for being in Queensland unlawfully.
Authorities were eventually alerted to his disappearance the next day after Mr Kantilla and another man from the group were intercepted by officers in Noccundra and escorted back to the New South Wales border.
‘No likelihood of him being alive’
That afternoon the pair reported Jayo missing, and there was an initial ground search in Noccundra, the campsite and nearby waterways by officers who were helped by a local publican.
Later that night, the rest of the group of men were intercepted by police, and the next day a co-ordinated search and rescue was launched, which included police divers, SES, volunteers, aircraft, thermal imaging, ATVs, and trail bikes.
Five days later the official search was suspended, but Jayo’s family arrived in Queensland, and they were taken to the campsite to explore the country themselves.
They identified a “spiritual calling” towards a river, and police reactivated their search for a further two days using a gyrocopter and helicopter.
The court heard during the eight-day search no clothing, human remains, or signs of foul play were discovered, and a forensic examination of the two cars came up empty.
In April 2022, cadaver dogs also carried out searches, but were unable to find his body.
Ms Lio-Willie told the court the time frame for survival in the rural location was estimated to be seven days without water, and “it is suspected that Jayo has passed”.
“The search was terminated on the basis that if Jayo was lost, there was no likelihood of him being alive,” she said.
International scammers claim kidnap
After a public appeal for information and media coverage, possible sightings have been made to police across Queensland and northern New South Wales, but these were deemed to be “mistaken, untrue or incapable of being verified”.
A psychic medium also gave police information on potential search sites but “did not provide anything of substance to further the investigation”.
Ms Lio-Willie told the court international scammers had also targeted Jayo’s family.
“Claiming they kidnapped Jayo and were holding him for ransom,” she said.
“It was an attempt to exploit them for money.”
Ms Lio-Willie told the court more than a year on and “there are still no answers”.
“To this day Jayo’s family do not know what happened to him,” she said.
“Nor any new leads to help get to the truth … or if anyone else was involved in his disappearance and suspected passing.”
The inquest is expected to run for five days in Brisbane and will hear from up to 15 witnesses including police and the men Jayo was travelling with.