'He was my life and I was his'
NUMB, empty, lost.
Bereft mother Rebecca can do nothing but think of hugging her nine-year-old-son Riley, who was taken from her two weeks ago on a splash-happy and very hot Sunday at Tin Can Bay that turned to tragedy before her eyes.
Rebecca (who requested we do not publish her surname) was on the shore at Norman Point when the worst five minutes of her life unfolded.
Riley, a vivacious and cheeky boy, and his friend had dashed down to the water ahead of their mothers with a rubber tube, and by the time Rebecca had locked the car and turned around the boys were already out of reach in the water.
A fierce gale separated the boys from their tube, and the ripping current pulled them out dangerously far.
In a blur, Rebecca entered the water, as did a reluctant hero who reached the boys and held them, but sadly, fighting against the current and the chop of the water, he lost the struggle with Riley and almost himself, before he and the surviving child were brought back to shore in a tinny.
"When they pulled him in and I saw someone lying down I said 'No, not my little boy".
"I think I knew he was already gone, but I was just praying for a miracle," Rebecca told The Gympie Times yesterday.
"He was like a raggedy doll. I was telling him he had to come back."
The anguish of those moments are still too raw for Rebecca, who, as a single mum and full-time carer for Riley's special needs, had a connection with her son she couldn't explain.
"He was my life and I was his."
She said after school every day he would run from class early and into her arms, holding her tightly and saying he never wanted to let her go.
"He was a very caring, loving boy," Rebecca said, unable to hide her tears at the thought of his cheeky face.
"He always had a big smile on his face and he opened his heart for everyone."
Boisterous, excitable and a lover of cats, dogs, birds and frogs, Riley had a reputation around town of being a Uno cheat.
"He made up rules every time he played someone," Rebecca smiled.
Riley's proud great aunt Heather said his special needs never held him back.
"He was full of life and smiles, everywhere he went and for everyone he met.
"Everyone that knew him had a connection with him."
Rebecca will have a long journey coming to terms with the many regrets of that day, including the last-minute decision to take the boys to Tin Can Bay's "calmer waters" after the rough waves at Rainbow Beach.
But she has been overwhelmed by the love and support she has received, including the large and warm turnout for Riley's funeral on Wednesday.
"I just wanted him to see all the love and the care everyone felt for him."
Donations to Rebecca to help her through this time can be made at The Gympie Jungle, Tozer St, one of Riley's favourite places to play.