Three missing children found asleep in back seat of their mum's car
THREE children who were the subject of an all-Ireland alert after going missing with their mother were found asleep in the back seat of their family car by an off-duty police officer.
The Roscommon-based family were found at a garage forecourt in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, at 7.30am yesterday by a PSNI officer who kept watch whilst uniformed officers were called.
Their discovery followed a major garda operation after a Child Rescue Ireland alert was issued at 3.30am.
It has also emerged that the 41-year-old mother-of-five had been hospitalised for a recurring health problem just last week.
The woman and her three young children, aged eight, six and two, were last seen at 3pm on Wednesday at a small village in Co Roscommon when the mother had collected her older two children from school.
The alarm was later raised by worried neighbours when the family did not return home by 9pm that night, leading gardai to fear for the family's safety.
After an all-Ireland alert which saw 114,000 hits by the public on the Garda Facebook page, the family were eventually found in Enniskillen.
"The children were asleep on the back seat," said Jason Moncrieff who works at the Lochside Vauxhall garage in Enniskillen.
"Two police cars arrived, coming in both entrances and a woman police officer approached the car and spoke through the window to the woman driver and she appeared to be also speaking to the children on the back seat," said Mr Moncrieff.
He said the off-duty officer remained at the scene, parked a short distance away.
"It happened just after 8am because I'd just heard the alert on the radio and when I pulled into work I saw the Galway-registered car and I knew straight away that that was the car," said the eye-witness.
"The police were very calm. The woman went in a police car and her car was driven away," he added.
Christopher Hannan, who works at the Vivo/Texaco garage next to the Vauxhall dealership, said: "The off-duty police officer was here for a while, maybe 20 minutes or so before the other PSNI people arrived.
"The woman was just sitting there. She never came into the shop and I thought maybe she was waiting to go into the Vauxhall garage," he said.
"It was all done very calmly. The woman police officer was chatting away to the driver before they all headed off.
"We're all delighted that everything was ok."
The woman was formally detained at Enniskillen police station under the mental health act a short time later and offered medical help.
She has suffered ill health relating to a physical ailment in recent years and had been hospitalised repeatedly.
The most recent hospital admission had occurred just last week.
"She was often ill since her youngest child was born and a neighbour would take the kids when she went to hospital.
"They were a nice family but they kept very much to themselves. She preferred the children to play around the house," said one neighbour.
Residents of the village spoke fondly of the family, describing how the eight-year-old boy would keep a protective eye on his younger siblings.
"They are lovely children, especially the oldest boy. He was a lovely lad, a very sweet boy. He would look after the younger ones. You would see him take them by the arm when they were walking down the village," said one local woman.