The father of tragic schoolboy Noah Donohoe has spoken for the first time of his grief at the death of the “cherished, precious son” he never got to meet.
Emmanuel Djakpa (41) broke down as he recalled hearing how the body of the 14-year-old was recovered in an underground storm drain in north Belfast six days after his disappearance led to one of the biggest missing person searches in Northern Ireland’s history.
Mr Djakpa, who is currently recuperating from a near-fatal shooting incident in the United States, also revealed that what had been aiding his recovery was focusing on the day he would finally get to see, in person, the boy who “brought magic into my life”.
The Senegal native told the Belfast Telegraph that he “wanted the world to know that Noah wasn’t fatherless” and that he had been in regular contact with his only child.
“Noah was a very happy boy,” he said, speaking from his home in Boston, Massachusetts.
“He loved playing sports. I played sports when I was younger and always encouraged him to get involved.
“He was into rugby, swimming, and basketball and he also loved playing the cello.
“I played guitar myself, so I always encouraged him to play.”
He said their conversations took place on the telephone and via Skype over the years.
“It wasn’t as if he didn’t have a father who loved him dearly,” said Mr Djakpa.
“I’ve had my own challenges, but I’ve always tried my best to be there for him.”
Mr Djakpa’s sister Helene (39), who lives with her older brother in the US, travelled to Northern Ireland for Noah’s funeral and, along with London-based sister Berthe Coco (49), spent several days trying to ascertain what happened to their young nephew.
Emmanuel, the ex-partner of Noah’s mother Fiona Donohoe, was too ill to travel to Belfast and missed the immensely moving funeral which brought hundreds of people onto the streets of north Belfast, four days after the lifeless body of the St Malachy’s College pupil was found.
Many of the mourners, who applauded the cortege as it went past, had helped in the massive search for Noah after he failed to return home on Sunday, June 21.
The plight of his distraught mother and her family over the next six days made global headlines.
“This is the kind of news you see on TV and never think it will happen to you or someone close to you,”said Mr Djakpa, who worked in the construction industry.
He said that he and Strabane native Fiona met in February 2005 while she was living in Boston.
“We were together for a few months and then she left Boston,” the father-of-one said.
“It’s hurting me beyond words that I never had an opportunity to meet Noah in person. It was something I always looked forward to.
“We always spoke on the phone, though. I know I had an influence in his life. I spoke to him about many different things, shared my thoughts and feelings with him.
“I told him not to let himself be bullied by anyone, to stand up for himself.”
“He had a strong personality. He was very kind. Such a beautiful kid, so good-looking.”
The estranged father said he hadn’t spoken much to Noah after being attacked by a man brandishing a gun following an altercation in Boston on October 12, 2018.
He was left for dead, has yet to fully recover and still has a number of bullet fragments lodged in his pelvis.
According to the Boston Globe report at the time, more than 20 officers, including the City of Boston’s first African-American police commissioner William Gross, attended the scene.
The attack happened during an unusually violent period in the Irish-American city, when eight people died from gunshot wounds within a 10-day period.
“I almost lost my life in that shooting,” Mr Djakpa said.
“Fiona didn’t want to expose him to what I went through and I respected that.
“But never a day passed that he wasn’t on my mind. Thinking about finally meeting Noah helped me through both the physical and psychological pain of what happened to me.”
Breaking down in tears, Mr Djakpa, who carries a picture of Noah as a boy in his wallet, added: “It was my birthday a few weeks ago and I was thinking about calling him. I just wanted to hear my cherished, precious son who had brought magic into my life in his short time on earth.”
He said he finds it “almost impossible” to accept the circumstances surrounding Noah’s death.
PSNI detectives believe the Year 10 schoolboy from south Belfast, who had been out riding his black Apollo mountain bike in the north of the city that fateful Sunday evening, sustained head injuries after a fall.
This led him to become confused and disorientated, eventually shedding his clothes and entering a storm drain at the back of residential property in the Northwood Road area, just off the Shore Road.
“I am sceptical; I think something happened to my child,” said Mr Djakpa.
“Noah was an athletic boy; he was very strong and fit. I find it really hard to believe he fell off his bike, suffered a concussion and just fell into a drain. It seems impossible to me.”
A police statement after Noah’s body was discovered said that foul play was not suspected, although several unanswered questions remain.
What, for instance, was a boy from the south of the city doing in an area of Belfast he had little or no knowledge of?
Mr Djakpa, although heartened by the news that Noah’s plight had brought people together from a divided community that had been suffering renewed sectarian strife prior to his disappearance, is hoping his sisters can bring back more information from their trip to Belfast.
“Helene especially has travelled a long way to get there.” he said.
“Her, myself and Berthe just want to know that everything possible has been done to establish what happened.”
In response to the Belfast Telegraph, the police officer leading the investigation last night said that enquiries were ongoing.
“Post-mortem results have been shared with the Donohoe family who have requested that their privacy is respected,” Superintendent Muir Clark said.
“An investigation into the circumstances of Noah’s disappearance is continuing.”