Murdered officer Adrian Ismay 'was our guardian angel for helping us find Joby'
Grieving dad recalls tragic prison officer’s role in locating his drowned son
The father of a man who died after falling into the River Lagan has said murdered prison officer Adrian Ismay was with him right to the end as he searched for his son.
Joe Murphy told the Belfast Telegraph he would never forget the support Mr Ismay had given him after his son, Joby, disappeared.
"I just couldn't believe the news when I heard it because I thought he was getting better," Mr Murphy said.
"You just remembered him because he was a big man and always had a smile on his face."
Mr Ismay died of a heart attack on Tuesday after a booby trap device exploded under his van in east Belfast earlier this month. As well as being a prison officer, he was a volunteer for Community Rescue Service (CRS) in Belfast, while he also once volunteered with St John Ambulance.
When Joby disappeared in January 2012 after attending a Snow Patrol concert, the police search was called off after a week. But Mr Ismay and CRS volunteers worked with Mr Murphy for a month until Joby's body was found.
"They came and they stayed with us every single day and evening," Mr Murphy said.
"Adrian was there right to the end when we got him. It was just a great thing for us because when the police gave up - they thought he had gone with the tide - we didn't.
"Adrian and (rescue worker) Sean McCarry didn't believe that. It was them that got search and rescue up. Only for them we would never have got Joby. That's a fact."
Mr Ismay helped to arrange for CRS to borrow sonar equipment, which proved vital in the search.
Following the recovery, Joe campaigned to raise money for a dedicated sonar system for Northern Ireland, something Mr Ismay was also dedicated to. He attended fundraising events and was there at the Hilton Hotel, where Joby worked, when the device was officially unveiled in 2012. "I don't know how he had the energy to do his work and then when he was finished come down to us," said Mr Murphy.
"Me and my son (Martin) would go down for the searches all weekend.
"Adrian would be there. One of the last pictures we have is us standing beside Adrian. I know they were out with the sonar on the Lagan two weeks ago and helped find another person.
"The waiting for families is a terrible time. After 31 days I was actually going mad. We called them guardian angels. For that to happen to Adrian beggars belief."
On Wednesday, members of the CRS posted their condolences to Mr Ismay's family online.
"Adrian was someone who devoted his time to the service of others across all of our communities as a volunteer in many areas for most of his life," they wrote.
"Adrian was a valued member of our organisation and his loss had a profound effect on all of the CRS family. Adrian worked tirelessly to support everyone inside and outside of our organisation and will be remembered as a colleague, trainer, manager, searcher and much more, but most of all as a friend."
In a blog post, one of Mr Ismay's CRS colleagues wrote an emotional personal tribute.
"I'm not ashamed to say that I cried when I heard of the attack on his life and I did the same yesterday," the rescue volunteer wrote. "He was a gentle giant of a man and it was a privilege to have known him as a friend.
"Adrian was an incredible character, was always so caring and thoughtful and he would always go out of his way to help whoever he could.
"He had time for absolutely everybody and always showed an interest in everyone he came across. If I turn out to be half the person that Adrian was, then I will have done very well at life." Staff from Hydebank Wood Prisoner Officers Association also paid tribute to their colleague.
"Sincere sympathies to the Ismay family circle on the passing of our friend and colleague Adrian," they wrote.
Another obituary read: "Adrian. Esteemed friend and colleague will be forever remembered and greatly missed.
"Deepest sympathy to Sharon, daughters and family circle. From all at the Prison Service College. Lest we forget."
It is understood that Mr Ismay's funeral will be held early next week.