Family's fears mount after 'keen cyclist' vanishes in Israeli desert
A sister-in-law of Co Down cyclist Oliver McAfee - who has vanished in the Israeli desert - says the family's fears are mounting but they're living in hope that he will be found safe and well.
Angela McAfee, who is married to the missing man's brother Matthew, said: "We remain optimistic of positive news. We are in contact with each other and with the search teams and the Foreign Office."
She said that her brother-in-law was "a quiet and gentle person with a large heart who loves to help people and enjoys travelling".
She added: "He is a creative person who enjoys writing, songwriting and playing the guitar. He is also a keen cyclist and covered some 14,000km in Europe over the summer."
The Foreign Office in London has said it is doing everything it can to locate the 29-year-old gardener from Dromore. But as concerns for him intensified yesterday, so too did the mystery of what happened to the devout Christian.
Fears rose after a series of bizarre discoveries were made near where Mr McAfee had been travelling alone in the Negev Desert in southern Israel.
Initially it was thought that he'd simply got lost, but his laptop, wallet and keys were found by hikers.
His bike and other belongings had been discovered earlier, and then a trail of torn Bible pages was found, along with handwritten notes about Jesus.
Search teams uncovered a rough hewn 'chapel' made from stones which was apparently left by Mr McAfee, who it was said could be suffering from religious delusions known as Jerusalem syndrome.
Experts revealed that people with the condition often experience obsessive religious delusions and psychosis-like spells where they believe they are holy figures.
Mr McAfee, who was described as a "real free spirit" by friends, was last seen near the desert town of Mitzpah Ramon on November 21, seven months after he gave up his job to cycle across Europe.
It was said that he wanted to get in touch with himself and find God by visiting the Holy Land.
When his family and friends were last in contact with him, he was on the Israel National Trail, which is nearly 700 miles long and stretches the length of the country between its southern and northern borders and is renowned for its diversity of flora and fauna.
In Northern Ireland, a number of Jewish people and self-styled Friends of Israel have been contacting family and friends in the country in a bid to increase awareness of Mr McAfee's disappearance.
They have also been posting and reposting messages on social media, where a special Facebook page has been set up called Missing: Ollie McAfee In Israel.
So far, however, there's been no news of Mr McAfee, who moved to Chelmsford in Essex from his home in Co Down nearly nine years ago. On Mr McAfee's personal Facebook page some of his photographs show him playing a guitar, while in others he's riding his bike.
Most of his pictures, however, are of flowers and butterflies, and he describes himself as "the solo gardener".
One of his posts after the Brexit vote in June 2016 said that he was considering leaving the UK.
He wrote: "That might be a nicer option for me. I don't want to stay in a country that divides a continent."
Mr McAfee revealed that he was considering making an application for an Irish passport so that he could "stay part of Europe".
In 2016 he posted a video of a Christian song by singer Chris Spring with a message urging people to tell themselves "you are magnificent".
Mr McAfee's close friend Mark Fletcher, who helps to run the Facebook page about his disappearance, told the Belfast Telegraph: "Ollie is a lovely guy - he's really gentle, kind and generous with his time and skills and he loves helping people. He is also very creative.
"He's absolutely very loved - a really valued and significant part of his family as well as his church family in Chelmsford.
"He's a guy of strong faith who has a living relationship with God.
"Ollie had intended to stay in Israel for five weeks and return at the beginning of December, but he missed his return date.
"We're obviously all really worried about him and want to see him come home safe.
"If anyone has contacts in Israel, please share this information about him, as the more people that see it, the more likely it is that someone who has seen him might notice it."
Mr Fletcher appealed for people to pray for his friend's safe homecoming.
He said Mr McAfee, who trained at Greenmount College and in England, stopped replying to his messages at the start of November.
A missing person case was opened on December 27 after Matthew and other family members raised the alarm on Christmas Eve.
A Foreign Office spokesman in London said its staff were assisting the family and were in contact with the authorities in Israel.
It's believed the Foreign Office has been liaising with specialist desert search teams.
Friends have spoken online of their optimism about receiving good news about Mr McAfee.
The fact that his passport hasn't turned up yet has given them hope and they know he has not left Israel, because officials say his passport has not crossed a border.