AT first they thought he was just missing.
Had walked off to cool down after an argument, but would turn up soon.
It wasn't the first time Jayden Penno-Tompsett had blown up and stormed off after a fight.
He was impulsive, especially when using drugs.
From the start, his friends believed there were plausible options and they weren't concerned.
But the misgivings grew as the days ticked by with still no word.
By the time they went to the police, it was most probably too late.
Jayden had been missing in Charters Towers for three days.
The hot, harsh climate of the remote town and red earth littered with sealed and unsealed old mines, only reinforces the sense of isolation.
It was December 2017, and Jayden and his friend Lucas Tattersall were driving from Newcastle to Far North Queensland, carrying drugs to supply to friends who had flown to Cairns for a New Year's Eve party.
Jayden, then 22, was hoping to make some money. He'd been struggling. He'd lost his job, broken up with his girlfriend and fallen back into drugs.
His friends said he was looking forward to the opportunity to get out of Newcastle for a while, spend a week with the boys living it up in Cairns.
But, on December 31, 2017, two days into the road trip to Cairns, Jayden vanished.
Police would later release CCTV footage from an early-morning visit to a Flinders Highway roadhouse, the last known images of Jayden, just outside Charters Towers where the men stopped to refuel.
There was a blue between the two mates over a lost bag of methamphetamine, or ice, that sent tempers flaring.
Then came the erratic driving for hours around the town in a frantic, but desperately confused attempt, to find the drugs, before Jayden, in a singlet and thongs, got out of the car on a dirt road and he was never seen or heard of again.
An inquest into his disappearance held in Cairns this week found Jayden is dead, having perished in the searing summer heat in the Breddan district outside Charters Towers.
Over four days, Coroner Nerida Wilson heard a disturbing tale of a drug-fuelled road trip that ended in Jayden storming off into a paddock on a day when the temperature reached 39.1 degrees.
Neither man had slept for days. Jayden was smoking ice every four or so hours as the pair headed north, and both men had taken ecstasy pills and MDMA powder.
"It was good, we were both high," Mr Tattersall told the inquest this week.
"At this point he [Jayden] was in a real good mood. Nothing mattered, it was all good."
But he said the trip "turned to shit" when Jayden lost a large bag of ice he'd bought on credit, somewhere after getting out of the car at Charters Towers.
"You don't know what these people are going to do to me for losing all these drugs," Mr Tattersall said Jayden yelled at him.
Before leaving Newcastle, the pair had gone to the carpark of a Hoyts cinema at Charlestown where Mr Tattersall said Jayden secured a large bag of MDMA powder that cost $2200 and half an ounce of ice.
He told the inquest that Jayden bought the drugs "on tick", or credit, in a "buy now, pay later" arrangement.
Mr Tattersall, who took 100 ecstasy pills to sell in Cairns, said Jayden was getting increasingly agitated and aggressive as time wore on and they couldn't find the bag of ice, which he said "wasn't cheap".
There was a heated exchange after Mr Tattersall said he was accused of taking the drugs.
"He was trying to turn it towards me, and that's when I blew up and said it's not my fault you lost the crap," he told the inquest.
Then in a fit of anger, Jayden got out of the car in a remote area outside Charters Towers, grabbed the bag of MDMA, smashed his phone on the dirt road and stormed off.
Mr Tattersall said he tried to follow and calm Jayden down, but he said he wanted to be left alone.
"He said, 'I just need to sit down and think about what the f--- is going on and figure out what the f--- I'm going to do'. So I just went back to the car," Mr Tattersall said.
"Off" his head on ecstasy, Mr Tattersall remembered little about the specifics of exactly where they were when he watched Jayden walk off, about 50m away, in the stifling morning heat.
That was the last time he saw Jayden.
Angry, he sat in the car listening to music for about 15 minutes, before looking up to find Jayden gone.
The court heard Mr Tattersall did a hasty search of the area on foot.
"I didn't assume anything bad was going to happen. I started calling out his name. 'Jayden! Jayden!'" he said.
"My heart started to race a bit more, I started yelling and screaming his name out."
When he found nothing, he got back in the car and started driving around looking for Jayden.
"It started to get real hot, like I needed to get water," he said.
After calling at a nearby property to fill a water bottle, where resident Lionel Murphy said there was no mention of anyone missing, Mr Tattersall sent a text to the crew in Cairns.
Had anyone heard from Jayden?
Even now, more than three years after receiving the text message, Jayden's cousin Tim Westcott still can't believe his good mate is gone.
After all, he and Jayden had been as close as you can get: they'd grown up together, partied together, they were not just cousins, they were great mates.
Mr Westcott, who had invited Jayden on the boys' trip to Cairns, along with about 15 other friends from Newcastle, replied that no they hadn't heard from Jayden and asked if everything was alright.
After hearing about the argument, the men in Cairns told Mr Tattersall to turn around and go find Jayden.
They agreed not to go to the police. They knew Jayden was carrying drugs and they'd later say they'd been told by Jayden he feared he had a warrant out for his arrest in NSW.
Hours later, when Mr Tattersall reported back that there was still no luck, Mr Westcott replied that there was a bed for him in Cairns so he headed north.
An emotional Mr Westcott told the inquest he had no idea at the time, as the men continued to party and enjoy their holiday, that Jayden had gone missing in a remote location.
He said as the days ticked by the thought that Jayden would simply appear after catching a ride or a train turned to bewilderment.
The anxiety grew when Mr Westcott learned Jayden was last seen on foot outside Charters Towers.
When he "physically Googled" Charters Towers, he immediately knew Jayden could be in trouble.
"I was never made aware of the seriousness of where he was left," Mr Westcott said.
"I thought he was driving up the coast. I didn't event know where Charters Towers was ... I wasn't made aware he went missing in the middle of nowhere."
They started a ring around to friends and family in Newcastle. Had anyone seen Jayden?
Mr Westcott contacted the police.
He marshalled the party-goers and demanded that Mr Tattersall go to the police station and tell them what happened.
By this time, Jayden had been missing for three days.
"I thought he would have been able to go a train station," Mr Westcott said. "This is the guilt I have to go through. It's what I've got to live with."
The inquest heard that the only available version of what happened before Jayden went missing came from Mr Tattersall.
Exactly what happened to Jayden after Mr Tattersall drove away no one can say for sure.
At odds with Jayden's family's belief that there was foul play involved, the coroner ruled this week that Jayden died of exposure to extreme heat.
The inquest heard that police drove Mr Tattersall around Charters Towers for days trying to pinpoint the location he last saw Jayden.
His memory, "cloudy" due to sleep deprivation and drug use, failed him.
It wasn't until Jayden had been missing for nine days that Charters Towers resident Mr Murphy saw an article in the local newspaper appealing for information about a missing man, that he came forward to report he'd given Mr Tattersall water.
It took more than a week for search and rescue crews to comb over a huge 85 square-kilometre search area in Charters Towers' Breddan district near Mr Murphy's property.
The area is made up of large cattle farms and rural properties. Mr Murphy told the inquest that within 400m of any direction from his place there is a house. "If you were dying of thirst you'd just go to a house somewhere," the 62-year-old said.
Police, SES crews, volunteers, helicopters and drones found no sign of Jayden. The inquest heard the baffling mystery of what happened to Jayden was characterised by countless social media theories, rumour, innuendo and a disturbingly graphic account by a fake psychic.
Throughout, Ms Penno, has fought long and hard for justice for her son.
She took to social media, door-knocked homeless shelters, distributed flyers in backpacker hostels and tourist hotspots, as well as searching abandoned properties in Charters Towers.
As the days became weeks and turned into years, Ms Penno said life as she knew it ceased to exist.
The increasingly fraught mother travelled between Charters Towers and Newcastle searching for answers.
But that fight has still not brought any answers, and she may never know the truth about what happened to her only child.
Coroner Wilson said Jayden's disappearance was among the "extremely rare and extremely difficult" 1 per cent of missing persons cases where loved ones are not found.
"It's the hope that hurts," she said.
Ms Wilson said there was no evidence to suggest that Mr Tattersall had harmed Jayden.
"I accept the ultimate submission of counsel assisting the inquest, that the issue of any moral failing on the part of Lucas Tattersall not to remain in the location where Jayden was last seen or report to the police earlier is a different matter entirely to whether or not he bought about Jayden's demise," she said.
Jayden's family continue to push for a reward to be offered in the belief it could lead to new information.
The police case remains open.
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