Noah Donohoe's heartbroken mum Fiona has revealed her son had suffered a head injury when his body was found in a north Belfast storm drain.
In an emotional interview with Rodney Edwards in today's Sunday Independent, the schoolboy's mother, who is campaigning for answers about his death, tells of the moment she had to identify his body.
The 14-year-old went missing in north Belfast in June. His body was found six days later in a storm drain near the Shore Road. A post-mortem examination showed he had drowned.
His mum Fiona revealed that all she could do was whisper she loved him as his body lay behind glass in a Belfast mortuary.
"He was covered in dirt, but he looked beautiful," she told the Sunday Independent. "I could see his braces and all I could think about was that smile… he never got to have that full beautiful smile."
Disclosing that a bump measuring 16cm in diameter was visible across his forehead when he was found, she added: "Before I saw his body, I was told he had a minor injury to his head. I am his mother and it didn't look minor to me. He was wearing a helmet that covered his forehead, so where did he get that bump from?"
A pre-inquest review hearing last August heard there was no evidence that Noah had been attacked and no evidence that any other person had been involved in his disappearance and death.
However, last month the PSNI confirmed it had received a report that the schoolboy may have been assaulted while cycling through Belfast.
His grieving mother believes that something untoward happened to her son, who was spotted cycling his bike with no clothes on.
"We believe there were two incidents. He was seen naked on his bike, but why? He locked the bathroom to get changed. No boy, especially Noah, would take his clothes off in public," she said.
The St Malachy's College pupil's cycling helmet was found by a member of the public on Northwood Road, while some of his clothing was discovered by a passer-by a short distance away. His green coat, grey Primark-labelled shorts, white underwear and a green T-shirt with an orange skull on the front have never been found.
"The thing I always hold so tight to me is our final hug and the last time we would ever hear each other's voices saying, 'I love you'. Our 'I love yous' were something that would constantly be heard down the corridor of our home," Fiona said.
"My heart is full of Noah but empty at the same time. There was so much life around with him and now there's so much silence, so much loneliness.
"I would do anything to see Noah walk through the door… I would do anything to give him a hug."
Fiona has requested a meeting with Taoiseach Micheal Martin about the case and is also planning to soon lodge a complaint about the PSNI handling of it with the Police Ombudsman.
"There is no point sugar-coating this - the police response was flawed," she claimed.
The PSNI previously said it had compiled video footage of the boy's journey from south Belfast to the north of the city and that Noah is not seen interacting with anyone else on this journey.
Fiona also revealed she had been shown CCTV footage by a resident capturing her son cycling on Northwood Crescent as a car turns the corner and a pedestrian walks down the street.
"This has never been brought to the public's attention. I believe whoever was in that car and walking down that street saw Noah. Why have they not been questioned by police?" she asked.
A PSNI spokeswoman said: "The disappearance and death of Noah Donohoe remains a coronial investigation. As such, any inquiries regarding that investigation should be directed to the coroner's office."
Fiona said she has been overwhelmed by the support of well-wishers, including the Belfast-born mother of Nora Quoirin, who was found dead in Malaysia in 2019 after going missing.
Fiona and her family have set up the Noah Donohoe Foundation, which aims to support children from all communities across Northern Ireland.
"Noah's passion for life and learning will live on through this foundation," she said.
"I can't see any end to the pain because I am never going to get a hug from Noah again.
"People say it'll get better. I don't know how it will ever get better."