Belfast Telegraph

Search for missing Belfast man Michael Cullen ends in tragedy as body found on Cave Hill

By Claire O'Boyle

The heartbroken brother of missing Belfast man Michael Cullen yesterday revealed that his body had been found.

The 33-year-old was last seen on January 9.

In the days and weeks that followed the family, along with his many friends, launched a huge campaign to find him.

In a poignant message posted online, Niall Cullen wrote: "It's with the heaviest of hearts that I have to tell you that Michael has been recovered from Cave Hill mountain a short time ago.

"The specialist rescue team are now bringing him back to his family home.

"Despite all of our best efforts over the past three weeks, tragically it is not the outcome that all of us wished and prayed so hard for."

During the search a Facebook group devoted to finding Mr Cullen gathered almost 9,000 followers, while volunteers from across Belfast and beyond distributed pamphlets and spread the word.

In his message on the Help Find Michael Cullen Facebook page, Niall wrote last night: "Michael was a highly talented guy as those who saw him perform (as a beatboxer) will testify to, but he was also a much loved son, brother, cousin and friend to many whose hearts are now broken.

"I can only hope he will look down on us and see the huge amount of love we all had for him. The Cullen family wish to thank everyone for their valiant efforts in trying to bring Michael home... we will never forget this!"

Sean McCarry, regional commander for the Community Rescue Service which found Michael, led the search since the day the Ulster University research officer disappeared.

Last night he said he felt honoured to get to know the Cullen family.

"It's been a very hard few weeks, and in that time we've grown very close to the family," he said.

"Just yesterday Michael's brother and sister were up with tea and biscuits for the volunteers. They couldn't have been kinder at such a hard time and it's been a privilege to get to know them.

"We're just so sorry this has been the outcome, but there is a sad sense of relief too that some resolution has been found."

Mr McCarry explained that a team of 40 to 50 volunteers had been working its way inch by inch through the huge expanse of Cave Hill since Michael disappeared.

"It is slow, arduous, intensive work. The volunteers and the police who supported us have been fantastic. They haven't stopped day and night," he said.

"We've had dogs and helicopters and we searched our way through the area extremely methodically. We did everything we could to find him."

Well-known figures, including champion boxer Carl Frampton and Hollywood star Sir Kenneth Branagh, also backed the campaign.

As news of Michael's death broke last night, tributes and messages of support poured in.

Ulster Unionist MLA Mike Nesbitt tweeted: "So sorry for Michael Cullen's family. There is too much sadness and suffering in this little country."

Sinn Fein's Alex Maskey echoed his thoughts, saying: "His family and loved ones have shown their love and determination to bring him home safely. Our thoughts are with the Cullen family tonight."

Alliance leader Naomi Long said: "So sorry to read that the search for Michael Cullen has ended so tragically. Thoughts are with his family, friends and the emergency services and volunteers who helped with the search in hope of better news. So very sad."

Detective Inspector Natalie McNally said: "A formal identification and post-mortem examination will take place in due course, however at this time police are not treating the death as suspicious."

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