Distraught McIlwaine family: 'We have to find Dean, we can't go on like this'
The parents of 22-year-old Dean McIlwaine say they are struggling to stay positive after eight painful days of their "truly loved wee boy" being missing.
Karen (52) and Rod (56) McIlwaine have been living a nightmare since their son disappeared on July 13, just days after being best man at a family wedding in Cyprus.
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"He has literally been plucked off the face of the Earth, vanished without a trace," the distraught couple told the Belfast Telegraph.
"As the days go on, you can't help think the worst. Some days are positive, some days aren't, but he has to be somewhere, where is anybody's guess - it's a nightmare and your emotions take you everywhere."
The last confirmed sighting of Dean was at the Co-Op garage on Carnmoney Road. He left the shop at 1pm last Thursday and has not been seen since. His mobile phone has been switched off and he has not used his bankcards since withdrawing £30 from a cash machine on the day he went missing.
His heartbroken mum wept as she described the agony she now endures on a daily basis.
"One day you are positive, the next you could squeal because realistically you know that people don't just disappear, and yet he has," she said
"You go to bed asking: 'Where is he? Where is he sleeping tonight?' Then you wake up in the morning and you go: 'Not another day of this, how will I get through it?' But you have to keep going because I have to find him; how can I live like this if I don't find him? Not knowing is worse than a death."
The family have praised the police for doing everything in their power, and said search and rescue have been incredible.
"But they are coming up with nothing," they said.
Devastated dad Rod explained about feeling conflicted that although police and volunteers haven't found his son yet, "that's better than them coming home with a body".
"Although, to me, that's what they are looking for. When I see them out looking with sticks it's hard to think anything else and when you read in the newspaper that a body has been found, it's the first thing you think of." Karen, who also admitted that as the days go on it's difficult not to think the worst, said the close family have no other option except to hope for the best.
"This is just a nightmare," she added. "Some days are positive and some days aren't but he's out there somewhere, although where is anybody's guess. We have to stay strong because for each other."
Whenever she does contemplate the worst she comforts herself with this truth: "I know that wee boy was truly, truly loved, and I know that deep down he knows that."
Rod, who has been unable to eat and wakes up in sweats through the night, thinks that his father's death on July 11 played on Dean's mind.
Dean's granda John passed away peacefully at home just days before his 89th birthday. Dean disappeared before the funeral was held.
Rod said: "Dean came with me to the funeral home. I didn't realise he was going to see the body, but he came into the room behind me. I think that kind of thing, his first close-up encounter with death, would have definitely played on his mind."
They were close, but Dean didn't see much of his father the last year because he was so busy with work.
Dean recently secured a job teaching barbering at Belfast Met and was due to start in September.
He was also in the process of moving into a new house with his girlfriend, Demi-jo McMahon.
He was over the Moon about the two-day-a-week contract, which perfectly coincided with his plans for his new barber shop, scheduled to open at the end of this month.
Desperate dad Rod, who continues to paint and decorate Dean's newly acquired shop unit, phoned the police at 4am on July 14 when it became obvious that his son was going to miss work.
"They couldn't treat him as a missing person at that stage, but they took us seriously. This was an exciting time in his life, but now we worry that he has taken too much on and it was too much pressure for him, but he never said anything and we didn't think this at the time," he said.
The entire family had returned from Cyprus on July 6, a week before Dean's disappearance and after doing a "fantastic job" as best man at the wedding.
"He had a migraine in Cyprus that lasted for days, which would indicate stress, but he came round and really enjoyed himself," he said.
"There was 49 of us and he loved it, that's the horrible thing - we had such a good time with no idea of what was in front of us. You can't describe it, it's unbearable and my heart breaks for anyone else who is going through this."
But his mum now has suspicions that the pressure may have been too much when he returned from the break.
"Maybe it all just got to him, but I don't know, you really can't get into someone's mind. I'm just trying to think - based on how I know him as my son - what might have been going through his head. We have nothing, literally nothing to go on."
In a desperate joint appeal, they begged their son to come home.
"We just really want you home, please don't be frightened to come home son, and we'll take care of you.
"We need you home; we can't function without you."
- Volunteers will meet at 12pm today at the Hightown Road entrance to Cavehill Country Park where there will be a briefing before a search gets under way.