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Claire McNeilly - Byline image

The longer the search for Noah goes on, the worse it gets... but hope remains

Claire McNeilly


Noah Donohoe

Noah Donohoe


Noah Donohoe

Day four, and for Fiona Donohoe, the silence is becoming unbearable. She has been on the front page of every local newspaper and appeared on all the TV bulletins.

She has watched as hundreds of volunteers, maybe even thousands, have combed the length and breadth of north Belfast.

But still nothing.

On Thursday afternoon, the investigation into the disappearance of the 14-year-old schoolboy from south Belfast remained intense and urgent.

Police divers were continuing underwater searches close to the train tracks running alongside Crusaders' Seaview stadium on the Shore Road, not far from the last reported sighting of Fiona's only child.

PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne stopped by at one point to talk to members of the various police teams, as specialist officers carried out their exhaustive and painstaking work.

The gravity of the situation remains palpable, although it was noticeably quieter on Thursday - the hottest day of the year so far - than it has been since the teenager went missing on Sunday evening, June 21.

That is the upshot of the PSNI and Community Rescue Service (CRS) asking members of the public to pull back from the frenzied activity of earlier in the week and leave the searching to the specialists.

Just across the road from Seaview, refreshments are still being provided at The Hubb Centre for those people keen to help out; it is no reflection on them that they will no longer be directly involved. Standing outside the building, father-of-six Darren Steele told me his nephew Owen Goodyear was Noah's best friend.

"Owen sat beside Noah in class at St Malachy's," he said.

"He's completely devastated by all this. He's been out looking for Noah with my brother Paul, Owen's dad, since Monday.

"I've been out searching every day for Noah myself. What has happened to him is a real mystery ... Everyone is getting very worried at this stage because there hasn't been a single sighting of him for so long."

Mr Steele added: "We all want to find him. Everyone who has children can only imagine what Fiona Donohoe is going through at the moment."

Ironically, and as distraught mum Fiona told me on Thursday morning, had it been another child who was missing, Noah would probably have been the first one out searching for him or her himself.

In that scenario, she would have been the one at home, waiting for news - any news - and imagining what the missing child's parents were going through.

Now, however, she is the devastated mother in everybody's thoughts, just like her son, whose now instantly recognisable image - a smiling, fresh-faced young boy, wearing his school uniform - pops up at bus stops along the Shore Road, reminding people that he is still out there somewhere.

Social media traffic about Noah has also been substantial, the intention being that somebody's memory will be jogged into providing the crucial, breakthrough details that could lead to his safe return home.

As people in the Shore Road area mentioned to me on Thursday afternoon, however, some aspects have been counterproductive, with unsubstantiated rumours masquerading as facts and threatening to muddy the waters.

But for members of the CRS team, who have been working tirelessly all through the night and will continue to do so, the main objective remains clear.

Regional Commander Sean McCarry said they are focused on finding a young boy whose so-far unexplained disappearance has affected so many in north Belfast and beyond.

The longer it goes on, the more worrying it gets, but Mr McCarry and his colleagues remain optimistic that this frightening, virtually unimaginable tale will have a happy ending.

"We have found people three or four days after they've been reported missing," he said. "The weather has been very good over the last few days. Noah is a young, fit, healthy boy.

"We still believe he may have gone into an empty building, or a shed or even into someone's house if the door was open.

"Remember, he could have sustained a head injury and may be disorientated and that's why we're still asking everyone in the north Belfast area to check their homes, gardens and outbuildings."

If you live in the north of the city and have not done this already, now is the time to start. If you have already done it, please do it again.

And if you have anything that might lead to Noah being reunited with Fiona at their south Belfast home, please come forward with it.

It may appear trivial, yet could be the key to solving this most vexing of puzzles.

Fiona on Thursday expressed her gratitude to those who have tried to locate her son. Hopefully she will get the opportunity to thank the person who succeeds.

Belfast Telegraph