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Lilie James The grieving family of Lilie James have broken their silence to pay tribute to their ‘vibrant’ daughter- as emergency crews work to recover a body from the water in Sydney’s east near the site where police were searching for her suspected killer.

Ms James, a 21-year-old water polo coach, was found beaten to death in a gym bathroom at St Andrews Cathedral School just before midnight on Wednesday.

Police suspect her ex-boyfriend and colleague Paul Thijssen, 24, killed her after she broke off their brief relationship before driving to the cliffs at Vaucluse, where a body was discovered on Friday morning.

In a statement, Ms James’s family said: ‘We are devastated and heartbroken by the loss of our beautiful Lilie James.

‘She was vibrant, outgoing and very much loved by her friends and family.

‘We are tremendously grateful for the support of the community at this difficult time.’

A source close to the family told Daily Mail Australia everyone in Ms James’ circle is ‘completely numb’.

‘It’s numbing – there are no other words that can describe the pain we’re in,’ they said.

‘Everyone is completely numb.’

Workers at a construction site in Vaucluse called police about 8am on Friday after making the grisly discovery, close to Diamond Bay Reserve, where officers had earlier been searching for Thijssen.

Ms James was reported missing to police when she failed to return to her family’s Kogarah Bay home, in Sydney’s south, on Wednesday night. She was later found beaten with a hammer.

Thijssen, who she had been in a secret relationship with for just weeks, later rang Triple Zero and told operators there was a body in the school’s gymnasium they should investigate. Some of his possessions were found at the cliffside.

Authorities spent Friday morning working to retrieve the body from the water, with a Westpac rescue helicopter and a police jetski.

The body, which appeared to be naked, battered and bloated, could be seen slumped between rocks at the base of the cliff.

A police jet ski driver kept guard in the choppy waves off the rocks as a police boat raced towards the site as the rescue operation got underway.

The surf ski later returned towards the shoreline, carrying two officers in wetsuits, as the boat remained at the scene, reversing towards the rocks.

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Lilie James Age is 21 years old.

 Dead with horrific head injuries inside St Andrew’s Cathedral School

A rescue team on the cliffs above then began rolling out ropes while an officer wearing a harness prepared to be winched down.

The body was retrieved around midday, but is yet to be formally identified.

While Ms James’s family and friends try to come to terms with their ‘everlasting grief’, the police are desperately trying to piece together the events of the tragic night.

Superintendent Martin Fileman said officers were presented with a ‘confronting’ scene when they arrived at the school due to the severity of her injuries.

A crime scene was also established near a coastal reserve at Vaucluse, in the eastern suburbs, where investigators found items linked to the killing.

Mr Thijssen graduated from the school in 2017 and worked there as an assistant sports coach, according to his Linkedin profile.

Police helicopters and boats patrolled the coastline off South Head on Thursday and Supt Fileman said detectives had been looking into the possibility the man had taken his own life.

The search was suspended after Thijssen was unable to be located.

The pair knew each other but investigators were still working to establish the nature of their relationship, Supt Fileman told reporters.

A post-mortem examination will be conducted to establish the cause of death.

Detectives are talking to witnesses and also combing CCTV from the school to piece together what led to the killing.

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Supt Fileman said the circumstances of the death would also be confronting for students as it involved school staff.

‘We’re currently working in with the school to ensure the welfare of the students and they have measures in place to make sure those students are taken care of,’ he said.

Flowers were laid outside the school, which will be closed to students until next week except for those sitting year 12 exams.

St Andrew’s Cathedral in Sydney’s CBD was set to hold an evening service of prayers for the school’s staff, students and families.

‘An area of the school, not accessible to students, is a crime zone, and we await the approval of police before bringing everyone back on site,’ a school spokesperson said.

‘The only students onsite are those sitting exams, and we ask that the media does not seek to interrupt their concentration or state of mind as they sit exams that are significant for their graduation.’

Meanwhile, tributes have poured in online for the talented young dancer, actor and swimmer whose life was tragically cut short.

Ms James was studying sports business at the University of Technology, having graduated from Danebank Anglican School in 2020, while coaching at St Andrew’s part-time.

‘There was nothing you couldn’t do, beautiful girl. Fly high Lil, we will miss you forever,’ one friend said.

‘Lilie was the most kind, caring, funny and supportive friend there is,’ another friend wrote.

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‘I could never think that we would lose our friend in these circumstances. Our world is so cruel. Thank you for the memories and the good times, Lilie.’