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'I wish I had seen Noah when he left his bike outside my front door'

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Karen Crooks in her north Belfast garden close to the storm drain, where Noah Donohoe had last been seen alive

Karen Crooks in her north Belfast garden close to the storm drain, where Noah Donohoe had last been seen alive

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Noah Donohoe

Noah Donohoe

The storm drain, where Noah Donohoe had last been seen alive

The storm drain, where Noah Donohoe had last been seen alive

Comfort: Pastor Brian Madden

Comfort: Pastor Brian Madden

Photopress

Karen Crooks in her north Belfast garden close to the storm drain, where Noah Donohoe had last been seen alive

The woman who found tragic schoolboy Noah Donohoe's bicycle has spoken of her heartache at not immediately recognising the significance of it.

Mother-of-three Karen Crooks said she initially believed the black Apollo mountain bike had been left by a local child and would be quickly reclaimed.

And the 36-year-old admitted she burst into tears when she saw the bicycle being taken away by police because she had hoped he would be coming back for it himself.

The body of the missing 14-year-old St Malachy's College pupil was found by a specialist search team in an underground storm drain on Saturday, almost six days after he was last seen near the Shore Road in north Belfast.

It is believed he entered the drain in an area behind Ms Crooks' Northwood Road home.

Ms Crooks told the Belfast Telegraph that she only realised how crucial the abandoned bicycle was when she saw a social media post about a missing boy last Monday - the day after Noah had failed to return home.

"It was about him being last seen in the Shore Road area and being on a black Apollo bike; my heart just sank because that was the bike sitting at my front door," she said.

"I'm sorry now that I wasn't in my living room - if I'd been sitting there watching TV I would have seen Noah running past.

"I just keep thinking that if I had known he was there, I maybe could have done something."

Ms Crooks, who has a daughter and two sons, first saw the bike in her driveway on the Sunday evening.

"It had been thrown on the ground, so I went out and picked it up," she recalled.

"It was still there when I went to work on Monday but it was early but later on, when I saw the piece about Noah on Facebook, my heart sank. I realised it had to be his."

Ms Crooks, who attended the north Belfast vigils for Noah on Sunday, immediately called the police at 7pm.

A neighbour's CCTV would later show Noah walking around the back of the Northwood Road, where there is access to a storm drain, which may or may not have been locked.

"They realised this must have been where Noah was last seen alive," she said.

"I'd obviously started a chain of events because then they were then able to find his clothes and helmet.

"Then the search and rescue teams appeared. They were here most of the night searching the area around my house, trying to work out where he went next.

"As a child who grew up here, I was asking myself 'where would I have gone? What would I have done'? I just couldn't work it out."

She also revealed that she became very emotional when police officers called to collect Noah's bicycle.

"When they took the bike away on Tuesday afternoon, I burst into tears," she said.

"I've had to take comfort from the fact that me coming across that bike brought the rescue team here to start the search. If I hadn't brought them here, to this storm drain and this river, maybe they would never have found him."

Ms Crooks, a classroom assistant, said she didn't need to watch any of the news reports because she watched the search "unfold in my front garden, my street and in my community".

She also told how she met Noah's aunt Niamh in her back garden and she said they would always be welcome at her home, should they wish to visit.

"Niamh and others came down to help in the search at one point and had made their own sandwiches," she said.

"Pastor Brian Madden, who was comforting the family, said 'put those sandwiches away, we have got hot food for you, and tea and coffee'. As Brian later said, they didn't want to encroach on anyone's generosity."

Ms Crooks said that, as a mother of two young boys, she could only imagine how Noah's mother must be feeling at the loss of her son.

"You just believe your children are always going to be there with you," she said.

"Unfortunately that's now not the case for Fiona. How she's going to get over this, I just don't know. I'm heartbroken for her and her family."

It is still not known why Noah entered the drain, but police have said they do not believe there was any foul play.

The funeral will take place at St Patrick's Church in north Belfast at 11am on Wednesday.

On Monday the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Frank McCoubrey, opened an online book of condolence in memory of Noah.

He said: "People from across the city have been deeply affected by the loss of young Noah, and their thoughts and prayers are with Noah's mother and wider family circle at this devastating time."

Belfast Telegraph