Fiona's family pray for end to ordeal
Gardai to step up excavation in search for body
THE family of missing Fiona Pender are hoping that her body will be found during a renewed search for her today.
Speaking last night, her mother, Josephine, said they are "praying for this to end".
Fiona (25) was reported missing from her home in Tullamore, Co Offaly, on August 23, 1996. The part-time model and hairdresser was seven-months pregnant when she disappeared.
This morning gardai will begin their third day of searching and excavating a site, where a wooden cross with Fiona's name written on it was discovered at the weekend.
"Hopefully, it's not a prank because that would be just terrible," Josephine said last night.
"Hopefully, it's somebody trying to tell us something. She's missing 12 years this August and this is the first find that they have had in all that time.
"But we just have to be hopeful that this will bring some sort of news."
She said Fiona would be 37 if she were still alive, while the child she was carrying at the time of her disappearance would be 12. Josephine said anniversaries and birthdays are particularly hard and she often wonders what her grandchild would have been like.
Yesterday an intensive examination of the site in the Slieve Bloom Mountains, just outside Mountrath, Co Laois, finished up shortly before 5pm. It is due to begin again this morning.
However, gardai yesterday said they are "not hugely hopeful" that they will find a new lead in the case.
Last night no sign of human remains or any other items, such as clothing, had been found.
Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Supt Kevin Donohue said they were alerted to the scene by a couple who were out walking on Sunday afternoon.
After spotting the crude wooden cross and what was written on it, they contacted gardai at Portlaoise.
A preliminary examination was carried out on Monday afternoon and cadaver dogs were brought in.
Supt Donohue said the dogs indicated that there were two sites which warranted further examination and excavation works began yesterday morning.
"We felt they needed to be excavated further, and shortly before 9am the excavation works commenced," he said.
Examination of one area finished at lunchtime yesterday and was ruled out.
The examination of the second area will widen today.
The cross was also removed and brought to Dublin for further technical examination.
"It was a makeshift wooden cross with the name Fiona Pender written on it," said Supt Donohue. "It was crudely made, with a single nail through it."
He said it was about two-and-a-half foot tall -- but refused to disclose details of what else was etched into the cross.
"That level of detail we're not going into at this stage because it (the writing) was known to very few people and that is the way the investigators want to keep it. It's something the investigators have asked me not to disclose."
He said it is clear from the location of the cross -- and the fact that the wood is not worn -- that it was placed there relatively recently.
The wording on the cross was also written with a marker or pen, indicating that it was written recently.
However, it is not known if it was there a matter of weeks or months.
The area is known locally as 'The Cut' and is regularly used by walkers and hikers.
"We're still hoping and we just want people to pray for Fiona," Josephine added.