Mystery of Pumpkin, aged 3, abandoned in railway station

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The Independent Online

Police in three countries are searching for the parents of a three-year-old girl abandoned at a Melbourne railway station, and say they are "gravely concerned" for her mother's safety. Qian Xun Xue was found at Southern Cross station last weekend, alone and distressed. Australian police, initially unable to establish the girl's identity, called her Pumpkin after the brand of clothes (Pumpkin Patch) she was wearing.

Footage from security cameras showed Qian Xun, in a red jacket, being led through the station by a man believed to her father, Nai Zin Xue, a New Zealand-based magazine publisher. He then left her on a platform, at the bottom of an escalator, which he ascended, wheeling a suitcase behind him.

Airline records show that Mr Xue, 54, boarded a flight to Los Angeles about two hours later.

Mr Xue had been severely depressed, according to a New Zealand MP, Pansy Wong, who knows the family. He and his wife, Annie Liu, 27, had split up recently, and New Zealand police said there had been domestic violence issues in the family.

The police said they were anxious about Mrs Xue, who has not been seen since early last week, and has not contacted police despite high-profile media coverage of her daughter's plight. Police found her car at Auckland International airport on Monday night, but do not believe she has left the country.

Qian Xun, who has been placed into the care of a foster family in Melbourne, did not speak for two days after being found by commuters and handed over to railway staff. On Monday she began asking for her mother. Other than that, she has not been talking, except to answer "yes" or "no" to questions.

Police said the girl was sleeping well and eating Vegemite (an Australian yeast spread) on toast. The foster family have bought her a doll, which she carries at all times.

Qian Xun was identified after members of the public recognised her and her father from images broadcast on television. Mr Xue, who moved to New Zealand about 10 years ago, is an active member of that country's Chinese community. Interpol and US authorities have joined the search for him.

He and his wife have lived in Auckland since 2002. Ms Wong said yesterday that Qian Xun's grandmother, who lives in China, would be flying to New Zealand to help look for her daughter, or to Australia to be with her grand-daughter.

Police searching for Mrs Xue have visited the family and other properties but have been unable to locate her. "We have grave concerns for her safety," said a spokesman, Simon Scott.

He added that police had been called to the home several times in the past year to deal with "family violence incidents", and that protection orders had been issued.

Mr Xue flew from Auckland to Melbourne with his daughter on Thursday last week. She was found at the station on Saturday, and identified on Monday.

Ms Wong told Sky News that Mr Xue had been worried about his work situation and was plagued by financial problems, as well as going through "a bad patch at home".

She said: "I heard he was talking about that it was not worthwhile to continue life, with money problems and life not going well... Last week someone said he was in quite a bad state."

Mr Xue published a Chinese-language magazine, The Chinese Times, and also ran a martial arts school, called Internal Energy Kung Fu. He is believed to have met his wife, then an international student in New Zealand, about five years ago.

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