Belfast Telegraph

Hester Glenn's agonising vigil at Foyle Bridge praying for river to give up her son Jack, missing after wading into its murky depths

By Donna Deeney

The sheer despair etched on the face of Hester Glenn tells of a mother's agonising wait for the River Foyle to give her back her son.

Jack Glenn, a popular, talented and much-loved young man with seemingly everything to live for, was seen entering the river on February 2.

In the days and weeks since, a relentless search operation has continued for the 23-year-old involving agencies from across Northern Ireland and the Republic, as well as hundreds of volunteers.

Waiting every day at a makeshift base now called 'Camp Jacko' are Jack's parents Hester and Colin and his sister Katie, all hoping with each passing minute that their vigil will end so they can begin the painful process of saying their final goodbyes to the son and brother they loved dearly.

It is Saturday evening, and as the light fades and another search ends, Hester admits she is struggling to believe the heartbreaking wait will ever end.

But she draws strength from Katie's optimism that soon the murky depths of the Foyle will release their hold on Jack.

"I have to say, every day I am getting worse and this past week it has been really bad," said a tearful Hester.

"I know now he is not coming home; I was looking at pictures of him in the bedroom and it is hitting home now that Jack is not coming home.

"I hope we find his wee body, but I know I am never going to see Jack again, it is terrible.

"I kiss his wee picture every night before I lie down, but I sleep very little. I looked at myself in the mirror for the first time in about three weeks and I was shocked at myself.

"I couldn't see Hester, I just saw the grey face and these black eyes. I can't recognise myself, it is a struggle.

"It is the people around me here and my family that keeps me coming to this spot every day. Sometimes when I am on my own I think too much, so I am better here where I am distracted, but then the day passes and we don't find Jack and that's hard."

For almost a month now the Glenn family have had nothing else to think about - only Jack - and in retrospect Hester ponders on little moments they had that now are so meaningful.

She explained: "I remember how he was on Christmas Day, Jack came up for dinner and he was so positive - 2017 was going to be his year.

"He threw his arms around me when I opened the door and said 'I love you, mum', and he wasn't a touchy boy; he was loving, but not touchy. Thinking of him like that is what will keep me going, but in hindsight now I wonder about how he was really.

"We never thought for one second he was suicidal, but the past four or five months before this his moods would have gone up and down and we were worried about him."

On Saturday, like previous weekends, the intensity of the search was ramped up.

The Belfast Telegraph joined divers from Meath Rescue and Boyne Fishermen's Rescue and Recovery, as well as Andrew McQuillan, a pilot with Belfast-based Crowded Space Drones.

Wayne Glenn, Jack's uncle, has been at the head of the family's campaign asking for help to get Jack back.

He said: "I am just trying to co-ordinate things for Colin and Hester so that we have some sort of organisation of what we are doing.

"This weekend we have divers from Co Meath, the River Boyne Search and Rescue, Lough Neagh Rescue, Foyle Search and Rescue, the PSNI, and there are 11 drones in the sky as we speak, as well as six independent boats.

"We also have 10 static searches ongoing, where two people are placed at strategic points with binoculars from 9am to 3pm, and at low tide we have searches along the riverbank.

"The thing about it is, we are a family in a desperate situation trying anything and everything to get Jack out of the river again."

Peter Robinson, a diver with the Boyne Fishermen's Rescue and Recovery, has been in Derry every weekend since Jack went missing.

He explained the difficulties facing the searchers who are on the river. "The water is anything between 10 and 22 meters deep," he said.

"I have been in the water, and the difficulty is, once you go below three metres your visibility is gone completely, and now there is so much silt in the river that even with a torch your visibility is nil.

"Our method of searching is you have two divers either back to back or shoulder to shoulder on a bar, and your search area is basically whatever you can feel. You are completely blind.

"In the sense of a needle in a haystack, that is it. Something could be inches from your fingers and you could miss it completely.

"It is a divable river, but it is a cruel river."

Alongside these experienced searchers have been "ordinary" men and women, some familiar to the family, but the majority unknown faces who just want to try and alleviate their unceasing agony.

Beverly Duffy and Anne-Marie O'Hanlon have no connection to the Glenn family, nor indeed to Derry city, but they left their homes in Lisburn and Crumlin at 6am to be at Camp Jacko for 8am. Binoculars in hand, the women had already spent hours on one of the static search points and were preparing to take up their positions at another after a well-earned cup of hot soup.

Ms Duffy said: "We don't know anyone up here, but we saw on Facebook that this family need help.

"It is just so sad, it is devastating. It's someone's child and these people are begging for help, so Anne-Marie and I decided we would come up and help."

Ms O'Hanlon added: "We have never been here before, so we used the sat nav and it brought us right here.

"We met Wayne and offered to do what we could and we really hope we find Jack, because then his family will be put at ease.

"For us it wasn't a hard decision to come here, we are two extra pairs of eyes that weren't here before, and that was reason enough for us to come."

  • Anyone in distress can call Lifeline on 0808 808 8000

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