Just when police were starting to fear the worst, the sandpit moved.
In what must be the ultimate happy-ending story of the week, a dozen Timaru police officers were starting to fear the worst after 3-year-old Sophie Bennett had been missing for 45 minutes on Thursday.
Sophie told her mother, Kelly, she was going outside to play with her dolls about 2pm. Mrs Bennett was busy inside but knew the yard was securely fenced so Sophie could come to no harm. Honey the family dog was also outside and would bark if anyone approached.
When she had not heard any sound from the youngster for 10-15 minutes, Mrs Bennett went to check on her. There was no sign of Sophie. Anywhere.
Mrs Bennett started looking for her, calling her.
"Sophie had vanished, she wasn't there."
With the house and section searched, and her sense of panic rising, Mrs Bennett phoned the police.
They came. They searched. Still nothing.
"We checked the house and the garden with mum," Sergeant Greg Sutherland said.
"We checked the bushes, we checked the shed, the cupboards and under the beds." Police were then sent to Bluestone School in case Sophie had gone looking for her big sister, Brooke.
Then they checked the New World supermarket in case Sophie had gone to visit her grandmother who worked there.
With still no sign of Sophie, more police were called in.
A dozen were soon searching.
After 45 minutes, police reassessed the situation.
"We were a bit worried, we were starting to think it was an abduction," Mr Sutherland said.
Just as police began seriously considering such a prospect, an upside-down plastic sandpit moved.
A most indignant Miss Sophie emerged - all the noise had woken her up. She, and two of her favourite dolls, had been taking a nap.
Twenty-four hours later, Mrs Bennett could see the funny side of the youngster's unusual sleeping site, though she admits at the time it was anything but amusing, being more a case of parental panic.
But in hindsight, it did not really surprise her Sophie had chosen to sleep on pebbles beneath the plastic sandpit, as she hasn't always chosen to sleep in her bed at night.
Sophie had gone through a phase of taking her blanket and sleeping with the dog in the hallway.
"One night she had an icecream container as her pillow," Mrs Bennett said of her daughter's less-traditional sleeping preferences.
- © Fairfax NZ News