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Mourners hold vigil at Tweed Heads for murdered girl found in barrel

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Mourners have gathered for a candlelight vigil celebrating the life of the nine-year-old girl who was allegedly murdered while holidaying with family in New South Wales’ Blue Mountains last week.

The sombre vigil began about 7.15pm on Wednesday night at Tweed Heads, near the Queensland-NSW border.

Locals gathered holding candles and leaving bouquets of flowers and messages outside the gates of Tweed Heads Public School, where the girl had been a student.

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About 150 people gathered for the vigil, staying on despite light rain.

A message on the school’s notice board read “don’t count the days, make the days count”.

A statement from the school on Wednesday morning said it was “absolutely devastated” by the girl’s death.

The school shared a recent photo of the girl – who can no longer be named due to a charge being laid – holding a literacy award she received at their end-of-year presentation day.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his thoughts were with the family after the unfortunate end to a search for the missing girl.

“You hope for the best. You pray for it, but it doesn’t always occur,” Mr Morrison said.

The grim discovery of a child’s body in a barrel dumped near the Colo River came after a five-day search of bushland was conducted around the Wildenstein Private Gardens, about 120 kilometres north-west of Sydney at Mount Wilson, where the girl had last been seen alive.

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Detectives spent several hours at the property on Tuesday as the search continued for what would end up being its final day.

Justin Stein, 31, faced court on Wednesday charged with murder after being arrested at a Surry Hills unit.

Police analysed CCTV and GPS data to narrow down their search to an area near the Colo River, alleging Stein had previously tried to float a boat at an inner-Sydney dock after allegedly purchasing sandbags from a hardware store, before travelling back to the Colo River.

According to court documents the girl was murdered on Tuesday night or Wednesday morning last week, days before she was reported missing.

Investigations are ongoing, with police yet to determine how she died or any motive for her murder.

Stein’s lawyer told the court his client had been prescribed a fairly high dose of antipsychotic drugs for many years.

The court was told the case, due back in court on March 18 in Penrith, involved some “complexities”.

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