| 14.7°C Dublin

Celine Naughton: I can only imagine the torment of parents left in this awful limbo

Close

Audrey Fitzpatrick pictured with her Partner Dave Mahon and a missing poster of her daughter Amy, which will be used on Truck across Europe in an attempt to find her,at Coolock yesterday.

 PIC COLIN O'RIORDAN.

 SEE ALAN O'KEEFFE COPY...HN

Audrey Fitzpatrick pictured with her Partner Dave Mahon and a missing poster of her daughter Amy, which will be used on Truck across Europe in an attempt to find her,at Coolock yesterday. PIC COLIN O'RIORDAN. SEE ALAN O'KEEFFE COPY...HN

Audrey Fitzpatrick pictured with her Partner Dave Mahon and a missing poster of her daughter Amy, which will be used on Truck across Europe in an attempt to find her,at Coolock yesterday. PIC COLIN O'RIORDAN. SEE ALAN O'KEEFFE COPY...HN

When Amy Fitzpatrick joined the ranks of missing children at the age of 15, nobody would have guessed that, just five years later, her brother would die in tragic circumstances. The shocking news that 23-year-old Dean Fitzpatrick was stabbed to death in Dublin last Saturday now begs the question, how much tragedy can one family endure?

Much has been written about the Fitzpatrick family since that fateful New Year's Day in 2008, when Amy went missing as she walked home from a friend's house in the Spanish resort of Fuengirola.

Shortly after her disappearance, rumours abounded that Amy was a teenage tearaway, skipping school, drinking, smoking and going to nightclubs.

Her mother Audrey rubbished such reports as "a pack of lies" and said that she and her partner Dave Mahon spent their life savings trying to find Amy. In addition, her estranged husband, Amy's father Christopher Fitzpatrick, had engaged his own private detective in a desperate attempt to establish the whereabouts of his beloved daughter.

Families of missing children often come under intense public scrutiny, which makes the ordeal even harder to endure.

Parents suspended in this kind of appalling limbo torment themselves enough without having to deal with public scrutiny.

Does anyone think for a moment that they don't relive every detail leading up to the disappearance of their children and persecute themselves with "what ifs" and "if onlys", followed by the agonising thoughts of where they may be and whether somebody is harming them.

"People find themselves in a no-man's land of not knowing and there is no end to it," says Fr Aquinas Duffy, who set up the website www.missing.ie to try to find his cousin Aengus (Gussie) Shanahan, who went missing in Limerick in 2000.

"Your imagination runs away with you, thinking of the worst things that could have happened," he said.

A couple of years ago I spoke to Gussie's father Bob, who said that every day since their son vanished at the age of 20, his wife asks the same question first thing in the morning and last thing at night: "Is there any news?" And to date, the answer is always the same.

One can only imagine the suffering endured by the Shanahans, Fitzpatricks, McCanns and others for whom the well-worn phrase "every parent's worst nightmare" is a horrifying reality.

And when, once in a blue moon, something miraculous happens as it did earlier this month, when Amanda Berry, Gina de Jesus and Michelle Knight were freed in Cleveland in the US after a decade of captivity, it gives a lifeline to families of missing children everywhere.

As pictures of the rescued trio were broadcast around the world, did Audrey and Christopher Fitzpatrick feel a glimmer of hope that they would one day be reunited with their darling daughter? How did Dean feel when he saw the news that evening?

We will never know, but we do know how devastated he felt when, a couple of weeks after Amy's disappearance, he wrote a letter to his beloved sister which is even more poignant in light of what has now become of Dean.

"We really miss you and are all worried sick," he wrote. "Mam is crying all the time and the house is empty without you and all your noise. I miss you a lot. I even miss you stealing my CDs and pinching roast potatoes off my plate at dinner.

"Please, please come home Amy. I don't know if you ran away, but if you have, just give us a text or something to say you're all right. Also, if you're some place where you can't come home or even get in touch, don't be scared. The police are out looking for you with dogs and helicopters, and I'm sure they'll find you and bring you back. We're all praying . . .

"Love you loads. Dean xxx Big hug sis."

Now that this loving brother has been killed, no doubt the details of his passing will soon become public knowledge. But let us not forget that behind the headlines are grieving, heartbroken parents, family and friends trying to come to terms with a horrific double tragedy in their lives.

Irish Independent