They held their son's little body on the bank of the river that took his life and sang his favourite song to him as paramedics delivered the news that their baby would not be coming home.
"I got there and I looked at him and he was cold and pale and his eyes were half open and his pupils were dilated we just held his hand and his feet and sang songs to him - his twinkle twinkle little star.
"We just sang songs to him that's all we could do, just hold him and sing songs," said Julia Tapp.
On Monday, Julia and Jason Tapp of Waihi lost their three-year-old son Ezra Tapp, or Ezee-bear as they like to call him, when the youngster escaped out an open gate that led to their backyard.
He travelled 200m on foot before drowning in the waters of the Ohinemuri River. The family searched for 15 minutes when they realised he was missing.
"The last moment I saw him I said 'hey Ezee where are ya going?' because he was running toward the gate where his dad was out in the shed, and he didn't even look at me," Julia Tapp said.
She said Ezra had to run past his dad out of the gate.
"When Jason came back in I asked him where's Ezra and he said I thought that you had him - and we still don't know how Ezra got past Jason."
The distraught family contacted police who joined the search.
It was his father who spotted him face down in the river. A neighbour who was with Jason jumped in and retrieved their beloved baby from the water. Paramedics worked on him for half an hour before they said there was nothing they could do.
"I was praying . . . that he had enough brain activity, enough spirit or essence or something for him to know that his father was there . . . I was just praying he could hear us, he could know that he wasn't alone or surrounded by strangers," Julia said.
Mum and dad held their son and sang his "comfort song".
"He would sing it when he was happy every night before we went to sleep. I would sing it to him two or three times. I would sing it if he got a stubbed toe and whenever he was upset he would hum it. That was his comfort song."
Julia said her husband finding their baby was meant to be. "I'm so thankful my husband found him, although it's horrible for Jason I am thankful he was the first one to find his son and to be there the whole way through, it means a lot. I said to Jason that it is the worst tragedy possible but thank you for bringing him home because there is something worse than that and that's having him go missing."
The family were able to bring Ezra home to hold him for a few hours before he was taken to Waihi Funeral Services.
Waihi Funeral Services and ACC are paying for Ezra's funeral costs.
"I am thankful to everyone that has helped," Jason said.
They describe their son - who had autism - as "on the go" and a "free spirit".
"He was a real Harry Houdini. He was forever climbing things, escaping the yard - that's why we put the fence up. He couldn't speak but he could hum. He was a free spirit that couldn't be caged."
Their loveable little "Harry Houdini" will give life to three other youngsters.
Mum and dad have agreed to let his heart valves be donated to help young children suffering from severe heart defects.
"How selfish would it be of us to . . . not give those strangers' families a chance. We can save two families by donating his heart valves. We could save someone's kids, we can keep their family together. We lost our boy, we can give the gift of life to two other families at least," Julia said.
An image of Ezra's favourite teddy Nosey Parker will be screen-printed on to the youngster's coffin. No date has been set for the funeral.
"I hope our story can help other parents with children suffering from autism know that they are not alone . . . Our little thunder will be keeping God on his toes," Julia said.
Jason wanted people to remember his son as a "kind little soul with wonder in his eyes".
Police said the incident is not being treated as suspicious and the matter has been referred to the coroner.
To donate to the Tapp family visit www.givealittle.co.nz/cause/EzraTapp
- Waikato Times