The cousin of a missing Indigenous man claims he phoned him ‘scared for his life’ just hours before disappearing more than two years ago.
Jeremiah ‘Jayo’ Rivers, 27, was last seen at a remote campsite at Wippo Creek, near Noccundra in Queensland’s south-west, on October 18, 2021.
A five-day inquest in the Coroners Court in Brisbane on Thursday heard Mr River’s cousin, Matthew Perris, received a phone call from him where he was ‘begging for rescue’.
Mr Perris claims Mr Rivers called him from his brother Joe Joe Kantilla-Gaden’s phone through Facebook Messenger.
The 27-year-old said he was ‘scared for his life’ and ‘outnumbered’ in the early hours of October 18.
Jeremiah ‘Jayo’ Rivers (above) was last seen at a campsite in remote south-west Queensland on October 18, 2021
The group – who said they pig hunting in the remote area – claim Mr Rivers went swimming alone in Wippo Creek (pictured, an officer searching the creek)
Mr Perris claims his cousin had been in a fight with Mr Kantilla-Gaden who’d then turned other members of their camping group against him.
Mr Rivers then ‘begged’ for Mr Perris to come from the Northern Territory to pick him up.
‘The situation was he wanted to get away from there, he was outnumbered,’ Mr Perris said.
Mr Kantilla-Gaden denied the claims on Monday and his phone records show no history of the call. It is not known whether a Facebook Messenger call would appear in the phone log.
Mr Perris has also been unable to show any history of the call as he since created a new Facebook profile and cannot remember the password to his old account.
Mr Kantilla-Gaden had organised for he, Mr Rivers and five other men to illegally drive 1,000km to camp in Queensland during the Covid border lockdown.
The rest of the group was made up by the brothers’ friend Matthew Moore and four Victorians – Travis Clare, Dylan Thomas, Joel McMaster and Kane Toohey.
The group claims they had travelled to Wippo Creek to go pig hunting and arrived between 7am and 8am on October 18.
Once they arrived at the campsite, they claim Mr Rivers went down to the creek to swim and cool off.
However, he didn’t return and was reported missing around 3pm the following day.
A massive eight-day land and water search including ATVs, planes with monitors to track heat patterns, a gyrocopter diver and local police officers found no trace of the 27-year-old.
Queensland Police had also released CCTV footage showing Mr Rivers outside a service station the day before he disappeared.
Mr Rivers’ family was immediately suspicious of his disappearance as he was a well-known Gija-tribe bushman who would’ve known better than to swim in a creek alone.
Mr Rivers’ (above) cousin claims he called him ‘scared for his life’ and ‘outnumbered’ just hours before disappearing
Acting Superintendent Timothy Mowle told the Brisbane inquest the group’s story didn’t match Mr Rivers’ character.
‘He wouldn’t walk away from camp, he wouldn’t go swimming on his own and he doesn’t even go swimming in the water up in Darwin, he was good in the bush, and had done a rangers’ course or something similar,’ he said, Courier Mail reported.
‘From the outset, I instructed all search personnel to be on the lookout for any signs of suspicious activity including disturbed soil, signs of a struggle, blood, torn clothing, and ammunition casing.
‘No such evidence was located in that search area.’
During initial interviews with police, one member of the group allegedly claimed they’d last seen Mr Rivers when he left to chase down their hunting dogs.
However, they later changed their answer to last seeing Mr Rivers when he went for a swim.
One man from the group (pictured at the Wippo Creek campsite) first claimed Mr Rivers had disappeared while chasing down hunting dogs but later said he was last seen swimming
Detective Senior Constable Christopher Brooks on Thursday said Mr Rivers’ case was treated as a ‘suspicious disappearance’.
‘It appeared on the face of it that the group was travelling unlawfully in Queensland due to the border restrictions at the time,’ he said.
‘Their multiple initial versions to the police were inconsistent with some of the information we had gathered.
‘Jayo was known to be a very competent bushman and had survival skills, his skills were inconsistent with him becoming lost based on the (nearby) creek line and roadway.’
Mr Kantilla-Gaden’s story also changed through the investigation, admitting to officers the pig hunt was actual a cover to smuggle drugs across the border.
He claimed the group was planning to move three pounds of cannabis to communities around Darwin, worth an estimated $72,000.
Other members of the group denied the claim during the inquest.
Detective Senior Constable Brooks told the inquest police have at least one source outside of the group who can confirm the drug theory.
Coroner Donald MacKenzie has remained adamant the other group members played a role in Mr Rivers’ disappearance.
Mr Kantilla-Gaden told the inquest Mr Rivers (pictured the day before he disappeared) and the group were planning to smuggle cannabis into the Northern Territory
‘From the brief of evidence, there is a clear line of criticism of the QPS investigation, whether it was incompetent is another matter altogether,’ he said.
‘But it wasn’t the perfect investigation, and there are reasons for that – the primary reason was that the information they had to act on at the start was a movable feast of lies.’
The inquest is due to conclude on Friday afternoon.