The death of Charlise Mutten has devastating consequences for the RFS volunteer who searched the bush for days

One of the volunteers who led the search for murdered schoolgirl Charlise Mutten described the impact of her death as “a very personal and deeply distressing experience”.

Rural Fire Department volunteer Darren Rodrigo has spent days roaming the dense bush and tackling the rugged terrain of the Blue Mountains with one thing on his mind: to find a missing girl.

He said that even though the hundreds of search volunteers suspected that Charlise was not in fact missing, they could not give up the search.

“We knew things weren’t stacking up from the start when we started the search, but we had to operate on the basis that we were looking for a missing girl,” Mr Rodrigo said.

Charlise Mutten was a highly regarded student at Tweed Heads Public School.(Facebook: Tweed Heads Public School )

But their hopes turned to tragedy when police found the nine-year-old’s body in a barrel on the banks of the Colo River, northwest of Sydney, late on Tuesday evening.

“Killing and death when it happens to other people, it seems so detached – but it becomes so much more real when you’re out there looking for the person for hours in the bush,” he said.

“There was a lot of love for Charlise here – hundreds of people I think gave their hearts and souls to find her – it’s just devastating.

“It affected me in a way that I didn’t really expect, it was harder than I thought.”

Kallista Mutten
Kallista Mutten is still under medical supervision and has not been properly questioned by the police.(Provided)

Charlise was vacationing with her mother Kallista Mutten and her fiancé Justin Stein at her family’s luxury estate in Mount Wilson when she was reported missing last Friday.

But court documents allege the elementary school student was killed as early as Tuesday.

Hours after discovering his remains, homicide detectives arrested Mr Stein at a flat on Riley Street in Surry Hills, Sydney city center and charged him with murder.

Police said anomalies in their version of events, CCTV, phone intercepts and GPS tracking helped them break through.

They traced Mr Stein’s movements and found he had bought 100 kilograms of sandbags in 20 kilogram batches and attempted to launch a boat in Sydney before heading down the Colo River.

Justin Stein
Accused murderer Justin Stein is engaged to Charlise’s mother.(Provided: Facebook)

The hundreds of volunteers who searched for Charlise day and night in the dense bush have been offered advice, including Mr Rodrigo, as they begin to process the news

“We gave everything we had and she didn’t make it without a lot of love,” he said.

“Everyone was exhausted, but they just didn’t say anything. There was a real sense of determination there.

“I’m so sorry this happened to her, I hope she has found peace, of course our deepest condolences to Charlise’s family and friends.”

People looking for clues in the bush
Volunteers who gave up their free time to look for Charlise were offered advice.(Provided)

Charlise won a literacy award while attending Tweed Heads Public School on the Queensland border, where she lived with her grandmother Deborah Mutten.

Dozens of people continue to place bouquets of flowers, photos, messages and teddy bears in front of the school gates.

“It really put a dagger in the heart of the local community,” said Tweed MP Geoff Provest.

Kallista Mutten remains in the custody of doctors after being hospitalized shortly after reporting her daughter missing on Friday.

Homicide detectives were unable to formally interview him and were unable to establish a motive, or determine exactly how Charlise died.

Once Ms Mutton is deemed ‘medically fit’, she is expected to be questioned about the alleged murder.

A forensic search of the bush around the Colo River continues today, with police insisting the investigation is still in its early stages.

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