Neighbours shocked as family seeks privacy
THE surface of the River Barrow rippled as divers repeatedly plunged into the murky depths below.
Just underneath the overhang of the busy M7 motorway bridge over the river, the divers dipped below the surface of the chilly waters in search of a trace of missing pregnant nanny Aoife Phelan.
A helicopter flew overhead as officers dredged the river amid suspicions the body of the 30-year-old may have been thrown from the bridge, which is close to Monasterevin, Co Kildare.
Several miles away, Aoife's family were keeping a watchful vigil in their home in the small parish of Ballyroan, just outside Portlaoise, for some news on their daughter.
Neighbours simply shook their heads when asked about the tragedy on their doorsteps.
"There has been lots of support for the family," a woman who lived close to the Phelans said.
Over the past week neighbours, friends and relatives have been searching fields and hedges as Betty Phelan clung to the hope that Aoife -- who is one of 12 children -- would be found alive.
She had begged her four-month pregnant daughter to contact them, and said Aoife had been in "good humour" when they last saw her.
Yesterday, the family requested privacy as hopes dwindled after gardai upgraded the search to a murder investigation.
A 24-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of her murder and gardai are searching multiple sites around Portlaoise town.
And as people continued to make the journey to offer their support to the family, it was impossible to avoid seeing the forensics team using a mini-digger to dig up one site of interest just up the road from the Phelans' home.
Sand and rubble was being moved from behind a white bungalow and shed, which was sealed off by garda crime tape, on the Timahoe road as they hunted for potential evidence.
"The house being searched is only a short distance as the crow flies from the Phelan family home," one local said. Another neighbour described the arrested man as being "well respected" and coming from a "nice family".
"It would be very much out of character. He was only 24, only a kid himself," she said.
The community has been "absolutely stunned", one man in the Ballyroan area said. "He was a quiet young lad really, never in any trouble. He is the last person you'd dream of being involved in something like this."
As the light faded, so too did the hopes of the Phelan family.