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Belfast community's collective resolve in searching for lost schoolboy Noah Donohoe has forsaken all barriers

Claire McNeilly


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Noah Donohoe

Noah Donohoe

Noah Donohoe's mother Fiona

Noah Donohoe's mother Fiona

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Noah Donohoe

Suddenly, north Belfast seems like a terrifyingly huge place.

Especially when you are desperately searching for a young boy who left home three days ago and has not come back.

Relatively few people had heard of 14-year-old Noah Donohoe before, but now he is the name on everyone's lips in this part of the world and beyond.

The whats, whys and whos can wait; for now, the only thing that matters is where.

Where could he be? Where did he go? Where, in a possibly disorientated state, was he trying to get to?

The answer has so far eluded the hundreds of people who are out looking for Noah.

Volunteers from the Community Rescue Service (CRS) have been overwhelmed by how many have joined in the hunt for the St Malachy's College Year 10 pupil. "There are a lot more people around due to lockdown and the public has been fantastic," said Darren Harper, who was leading the CRS operation on Tuesday.

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Search and rescue teams in a park

Search and rescue teams in a park

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Search and rescue teams in a park

For his colleague Kerry Whitehouse, who has been out searching for Noah until 2am, the plight of the missing teenager plays on her mind.

"We're trained not to get emotionally involved," she said.

"But I have a 14-year-old daughter at home, it's hard not to think about that."

At one point, the CRS team is directed down an alleyway at the back of York Park to see a discarded pair of worn, navy blue boxer shorts and a solitary black sock, both of which were lying in front of an old shed with a yellow wall.

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Search and rescue teams in north Belfast search for missing Noah Donohoe on June 24th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Search and rescue teams in north Belfast search for missing Noah Donohoe on June 24th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Search and rescue teams in north Belfast search for missing Noah Donohoe on June 24th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

As they were lifted off the ground, Darren said: "Anything we find we bag as evidence and hand it over to the police."

It was an overcast, muggy day as small teams of selfless volunteers continued to comb the area.

Many have gone down streets they have never previously walked and across parks they haven't frequented for years.

Others have looked, then looked again, into sheds, outhouses, derelict buildings, gardens, back alleys, scrubland; virtually anything that constitutes a nook or cranny.

For some, it is their first time in this part of Belfast.

They have come from all over the city, and beyond.

The searching has been overnight, incessant, widespread and impressively coordinated, to ensure every inch is covered.

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Belfast residents search for Noel Donahoe who disappeared on Sunday. Pic Stephen Davison.

Belfast residents search for Noel Donahoe who disappeared on Sunday. Pic Stephen Davison.

Belfast residents search for Noel Donahoe who disappeared on Sunday. Pic Stephen Davison.

Volunteers formed teams, then fanned off in different directions, knocking on doors, asking about possible sightings, urging an almost forensic search of individual houses.

The PSNI are conducting their own investigations, on foot, in vehicles and in the air.

Social media is playing a crucial role, too; who hasn't already posted, shared or retweeted something about this missing boy from the south of the city?

Every parent knows the gut-wrenching terror that ensues from not knowing where your child is, even if it is for just a few seconds in a supermarket.

It is therefore unimaginable what Fiona Donohoe is going through right now, as the hours and days tick by and Noah, her only child, remains missing.

All she can do is appeal for witnesses to come forward; surely someone saw a young boy, who happened to have his top off, in or around the Northwood Road/Premier Drive area, on or since last Sunday evening?

Every time the phone rings, her hopes rise. But although messages of heartfelt support are always welcome, she would swap it all for the one call that would end the agony.

Issuing a fervent appeal on day three of his disappearance, Mrs Donohoe said she was baffled by the lack of eyewitnesses.

Her sister Niamh Donohoe, who was out searching for her nephew on Tuesday, described him as "a great wee boy" and said they are desperate for answers.

"We've no idea what has happened," she said. "We would ask the public to think about whether they've noticed anything unusual recently.

"One woman thought she heard crying at midnight ... information like that could be extremely helpful."

North Belfast is often cited as a 'divided' area; it was only a couple of days ago local folk were discussing sectarian strife at Grove Playing Fields.

But the community's collective resolve in searching for Noah has forsaken all barriers. Tribalism can wait, this can't.

Volunteers gathered at the Limestone Road interface to get instructions from team leaders. The Hubb Community Resource Centre, on the Shore Road, became a place where those involved in the search could partake of refreshments.

Many children will be hugged a little tighter tonight. Parents are hoping - and some vigorously searching - so that Noah's mum can ultimately do the same.

Belfast Telegraph