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Noah Donohoe search: Vital questions on disappearance are still unanswered

Claire McNeilly

Noah Donohoe

Another day, another press conference, a potentially significant find - but still no sign of Noah.

And, as we begin the sixth full day of searching for the Year 10 pupil, vital questions remain unanswered.

What was the 14-year-old, who hails from the south of the city, doing in that part of north Belfast?

Was he on his way to meet someone and, if so, who? Why did he have a laptop with him, when he already had a phone?

And, more generally, how can anyone disappear without a trace, let alone a young boy who was supposedly naked on a bicycle?

Detectives are of course hoping the recovery of Noah's Lenovo laptop in the rucksack a member of the public brought to detectives' attention might unlock some of the secrets.

Perhaps it will contain something that wasn't found on his phone, which the police have had in their possession since shortly after he went missing.

The one thing we're sure of is that time is of the essence.

On Sunday it will be a week since the popular St Malachy's schoolboy set off on his Apollo mountain bike across the city.

His mother Fiona expected him, her only child, back later that evening but initial concern eventually morphed into the deep trauma she has been experiencing ever since.

At Friday's press conference, Superintendent Muir Clark told reporters that Noah's family had been "extremely helpful" and "highly cooperative" during what was an exceptionally difficult and distressing time.

But he added that Noah's reason for being in that particular area of north Belfast "is still unclear to both the family and us".

Presumably the detectives working on this most baffling of cases know considerably more than they're currently making public.

It is clear, however, that there is a missing link in the chain of evidence and hopefully Supt Clark's assertion on Friday that the laptop was a "significant" find will indeed prove to be just that.

The search operation is less conspicuous than it was earlier in the week, when hundreds of people from north Belfast and beyond joined in.

Fiona Donohoe on Friday used the medium of this newspaper to express her gratitude towards those who spent hours canvassing every house, shed, outbuilding, back alley, scrubland and inch of parkland while out looking for her son.

Their efforts augmented those of the specialist teams including PSNI divers, who've been crawling through drains and sewers over the past few days.

It is understood the search has been extended to include the Antrim Road and Belfast city centre.

You get the feeling, however, that the clues as to Noah's whereabouts remain undiscovered within the boundaries of the area of north Belfast where he was last seen.

As Sean McCarry, head of operations at the Community Rescue Service, which has been assisting the PSNI in the search for Noah, told me on Fridays: "We are expanding our search slowly and methodically to wider areas, although we also keep looking behind. We're bearing in mind that people can come into an area that has already been searched."

With Noah's picture having been on newspaper front pages, websites, bus shelters, posters and social media for almost a week now, it is hard to imagine someone not recognising him should he reappear.

People go missing in Northern Ireland all the time, many of them Noah's age.

The majority, however, are found or return home within a relatively short time, even though every hour will feel like a day for their distraught loved ones.

Fiona Donohoe can only sit by the phone, willing it to ring with the news she is praying for.

She will have been encouraged by the laptop find; let's hope it is as significant as police believe.

Belfast Telegraph