In an inquest launched to determine what happened, harrowing facts of an apprentice tradesman’s final days before he vanished without a trace were heard.
On the evening of November 13, 2016, Zac Barnes, 18, was last seen frantically exiting a friend’s car and rushing into the wilderness close to Thornton train station in the NSW Hunter region.
The teen was just sporting a worn blue singlet, blue boardshorts, and work boots. He was also missing his wallet and phone.
Since then, no one has seen or heard from him. Since then, neither his phone nor his social media accounts have been used.
in the start of the inquest into the suspected death of the apprentice bricklayer on Monday in Sydney’s Lidcombe Coroners Court, Zac’s grieving family hoped to finally find closure.
With them were Zac’s mother Karen Gudelj, stepfather Michael, as well as his older brother Cody, younger sisters Makayla, and Mia.
The three-day inquiry will focus on Zac’s final weeks before going missing, as well as worries expressed by his loved ones and friends about his well-being.
The inquiry was informed by Tim Hammond SC’s attorney that “some details of this tragedy will be devastating to hear,” including the weeks, day, and weekend of Zac’s absence.
The circumstances behind Zac’s disappearance are exceedingly tragic, and his family and friends will always feel a hole left by not knowing where he is.
It must be concluded that Zac has died, Mr. Hammond continued.
Concerns were initially raised a fortnight before Zac vanished when, after attending a pub crawl earlier in the day, he failed to show up for his brother Cody’s birthday party in Newcastle.
He was fired from his job in the days before he vanished following a conflict with a coworker.
Zac texted a pal a terrifying Snapchat message that said only “Dead” and asked his parents for $1,200 to help pay off a debt.
He spent what is thought to be his last day of life at a friend’s house, where he drank, entertained friends with board games, and watched movies.
Around eight o’clock on November 13, 2016, he was last seen getting out of a friend’s car on Hausmann Drive near Tripp Close at Thornton. He had asked them to pull over.
Zac was in a panic when his two closest pals last saw him.
The following day, Zac’s mother and stepfather notified Maitland Police that he was missing.
Zac, who was regarded as a brilliant mathematician, a gifted footballer, and a popular student, was also discussed by Mr. Hammond.
He was a popular young guy who “lived life to the fullest,” the witness told the inquest.
Zac had no touch with his biological father, but he had good ties with his stepfather, mother, and siblings.
Zac accompanied Michael (his stepfather) wherever he went, according to Mr. Hammond.
With no sightings since the evening of November 13, 2016, Zac is believed to be dead.
Zac wasn’t the kind of person who would frequently miss family gatherings, according to Mr. Hammond.
But a number of concerns concerning Zac’s passing still exist.
The inquest will also examine how NSW Police handled the matter and how emergency services responded to Zac’s abduction.
Numerous large-scale searches were conducted, utilizing a wide array of police tools, including PolAir, police dogs, and divers.
The officer in command of the investigation, Detective Senior Constable Christopher Walker, was the first to be questioned at the inquest. He was probed about the searches that the police conducted.
Eight days after Zac vanished, the first concerted search was initiated, and he took over the investigation on that day. This has sparked concerns about the police’s lack of urgency in trying to locate the kid.
Police dogs wouldn’t be called in for another two months, and police divers wouldn’t be sent to search nearby dams until late March 2017, another two months after that.
Investigators also examined a nearby well to look for clothing or human remains after receiving a tip. Never was anything discovered.
No risk assessment had been done about the urgency of the search related to Zac’s disappearance, Det Sr Const Walker informed the court.
Family and friends of Zac looked for him on their own but were unsuccessful.
The inquiry could give the answers Zac’s family has been looking for during the past seven years, they hope.
As she spoke to reporters outside court, Ms. Gudelj said, “This is the day we’ve been fighting for a long time and we’re hoping to get some answers.”
It’s a crucial first step in discovering what actually happened to Zac. Whether he is alive or not, we want to bring our boy home.
We only need to exercise patience while anticipating what will transpire tomorrow and the following day.
On New Year’s Eve, Zac’s family promised on the Finding Zac Barnes Facebook page that 2023 would be the year they would hopefully receive clarification.
If Zac were still living, he would be 25 years old.
Carmel Forbes, the deputy state coroner, is anticipated to continue the hearing into Wednesday.