Monday 24 April 2017

'She's a shining star' - Family of teacher missing for two days cling to hope

Missing schoolteacher Catherine Johnston with her three-year-old son James
Missing schoolteacher Catherine Johnston with her three-year-old son James

Claire McNeilly

The family of a teacher who has been missing for two days are hoping for her safe return as a major air and sea search continues.

Mother-of-one Catherine Johnston from east Belfast disappeared on Tuesday and her car was later found at Ballintoy Harbour on the Antrim coast.

The 39-year-old science teacher's husband Tim, who is understood to work in computers, and their three-year-old son James were yesterday being comforted at their home by relatives.

A source close to the family said: "We are all just waiting for news and hoping that we find her as soon as possible."

Missing schoolteacher Catherine Johnston with her husband Tim and James
Missing schoolteacher Catherine Johnston with her husband Tim and James

Mrs Johnston, who teaches at Hazelwood College and is also Head of Year 10 pupils, was described in glowing terms by the principal and hailed as "a shining star".

Kathleen O'Hare said that pupils at the school were informed of her disappearance at yesterday morning's assembly, during which prayers were said for her.

"She was head of year 12 last year and they got the best results ever in our 30 years of existence, so that's how shining a star she is," added Ms O'Hare.

Mrs Johnston, who had been off work ill in the last few days, had moved to east Belfast from her previous home in Dundonald, where she had lived for more than a decade.

Rescue crews use drones and powerful searchlights in a bid to find missing teacher Catherine Johnston
Rescue crews use drones and powerful searchlights in a bid to find missing teacher Catherine Johnston

Yesterday her former neighbours, who described her as a "lovely, lovely girl", said they got to know her well shortly after her young son was born.

Sandra Lindsay told how Catherine used to visit her regularly when she was living in the area and she said they developed a friendship.

Her husband David added: "We gave her our grandson Josh's bike for James last Christmas because he didn't need it anymore."

Initial searches were suspended in the early hours of yesterday due to poor light. The search operation involving police and Coastguard is concentrated around the Dunseverick Castle and Carrick-a-rede areas.

Missing schoolteacher Catherine Johnston
Missing schoolteacher Catherine Johnston

Mrs Johnston is described as being approximately 5ft 9in tall, of average build and with light brown shoulder-length hair.

Inspector Sammy McConnell said: "A white Seat Leon car, which we believe Catherine was driving, has been found in the Ballintoy Harbour area.

"There is currently a joint police and Coastguard search under way.

"I would appeal to anyone who saw this white Seat Leon car travelling between Belfast and the north coast or anyone who has any information to contact police on the non-emergency number 101 quoting reference 889 13/12/16."

Josie McShane, who owns the family-run Sheep Island Hostel in Ballintoy, said they only learned that Mrs Johnston was missing when police knocked on their door to ask if she had checked in.

"The search lights in the early hours of yesterday morning lit up the whole area as if it was daytime," she added.

There have been a number of tragedies at Ballintoy Harbour in recent years.

The body of father-of-two George Jamieson, who was a well-known figure in the area, was recovered from a car last Christmas Eve.

The 61-year-old construction worker had recently returned to the Co Antrim town after working in England.

In 2008 a car belonging to Robin Wilson (74) and his 73-year-old wife Margaret, from Newtownabbey, was found abandoned near the end of the pier, with the keys inside the vehicle, along with money and personal items.

At the time Mrs Wilson's brother Francis Clayton said he believed the sea had taken them.

However, the bodies of the pensioners were never found despite extensive searches along the coastline.

Belfast Telegraph

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