I'm torn between despair and hope, says mother of missing NI man as his brother and sister join Cave Hill search
The distraught mother of a Belfast man who has been missing for four days has said she is torn between despair and hope as the agonising wait for news of her eldest son continues.
Michael Cullen (33), a well-known beatbox performer from the North Circular Road area of north Belfast, was last in contact with loved ones just after 2pm on Tuesday.
Yesterday, teams of volunteers, family members and friends continued to comb Cave Hill, where he was last seen by a neighbour, and a police helicopter and drones were also deployed in the search.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, his devastated mother Rosemarie (62) made an impassioned plea for the safe return of her son, and said he had been feeling "low" before his sudden disappearance.
"Michael, we love you and we want you to come home; everything is going to be okay," she said.
Among those taking part in the search yesterday were Michael's sister Cathy (34), his younger brothers Daniel (31) and 21-year-old Colm, and his best friend Rory Girvan, a 32-year-old gym owner.
"I go between despair and hope. I'm hoping that he will just walk in the door any minute," added Mrs Cullen, a retired teacher.
"I'll be happy when they've completed the search of Cave Hill and we can be certain that he isn't there."
The mother-of-four added: "We're a very close family. We are working through this together. If anyone sees Michael, please let us know."
Fighting back tears, his London-based sister Cathy, who was involved in the lengthy search of Cave Hill all day yesterday, added: "We miss Michael and we love him; we just want him to come home."
Michael, who is 5ft 11in with dark hair and a beard, was wearing a green puffa jacket, grey jumper and black trousers before he went missing.
Describing her son as "very upbeat" and "very musical", Mrs Cullen said his disappearance has come as a shock to herself, his father Kevin (67), a retired postal worker, and all the family.
And while she said that Michael, an Ulster University employee, had no history of depression, she added that he had been "feeling low" over the Christmas period.
"He went to the doctor on Sunday in the hospital and then he went to his own doctor on Monday. He was feeling down," she said.
"This is the first time he has ever done this. It is completely out of character for him to go away and not contact us. He's never done this before."
She added: "He is so positive and would be doing all the walking and going to the gym and talking to us ... but there was a change in his behaviour. He was walking loads but he wasn't talking to us."
Mrs Cullen wasn't at home when business graduate Michael left the house at 10am on Tuesday, however, she confirmed there was nothing to suggest there was anything wrong prior to his departure.
"My husband saw him and he said he seemed okay; he was walking round the kitchen," she said. "Kevin hadn't slept well the night before. He told Michael he was going up to bed to get some sleep, and Michael said that was fine. While Kevin was in bed Michael left the house."
Mrs Cullen said that a neighbour later informed them he had dashcam footage of the last sighting of Michael in the Cave Hill area that morning.
"He showed us images of Michael coming down from the Cave Hill at 10.15am and then going up again at 10.42am," she said.
Mrs Cullen also revealed that Michael last contacted her just after 2pm.
"He messaged me saying 'I'm going for a long walk, then I'm going to the gym'," she recalled.
"At the same time my husband rang him. He said he was okay. We asked him if he wanted a lift home and he said he didn't.
"Those were the last words he spoke. That was 2.14pm. We don't know where he was."
Rosemarie said she called the police "immediately" after she got his text saying he was going for a long walk "because I was worried about his frame of mind".
"I thought we should go and have a look for him at the gym," she said.
"We went there with the police but we couldn't see him. We then checked a different gym but he wasn't there either."
The concerned couple then contacted Michael's best friend, Rory, who also owns a gym, and discovered he hadn't been there either.
"I was worried in case he was just saying he was going to the gym because of the way he was feeling so dark," said Mrs Cullen.
"I asked him if there was anything in particular that was wrong but he said he just felt low about a lot of things."
Last night, Rory - who set up a Facebook group called Help Find Michael Cullen - praised the "helpful and hard-working" volunteer search and rescue teams "who have been out day and night since Michael has been missing".
"In the past Michael and I have had candid chats about mental well-being," he said.
"He had been down the last while but he hadn't been talking about it. His disappearance has come as a bolt out of the blue."
Rory also revealed that, earlier this week, he'd travelled to Dublin with a pal to look for Michael, who's been described as Ireland's best beatbox performer, to no avail.
Michael "Cull" Cullen has performed his talent to audiences all over the UK in cities including London and Dublin. He has videos on his YouTube page of performances at the L'Oreal colour show in 2017 and the Prince's Trust Celebrate Success Awards.
And although family and friends have barely slept since the popular young man went missing, Rory said the mood among searchers remains both "hopeful" and "pragmatic".
"My message to Michael is: Come home when you're ready," he said. "There are so many people who love and care for you. Don't feel under pressure to come back until you're ready. And when you do, you can talk to me or your family. We love you and we miss you."
He added: "Michael may have gone somewhere for some quiet time.
"His phone has been off since Tuesday afternoon.
"Maybe he is feeling overwhelmed; he may be seeking refuge somewhere." Revealing that the last exchange between him and Michael was last Tuesday afternoon, Rory said his childhood friend had replied to a text message sent by him at 2.32pm.
"He told me he was out and about and he asked me where I was; that was the last anyone heard from him," he said. "I replied but my message was never delivered. His phone was switched off. I was the last person to hear from him."
The Cullen family have appealed for CCTV or dashcam footage taken in the Cave Hill area on Tuesday