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February 27th 2002

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Brendan Still Missing

Search for youth continues

“Each night we leave the door open and the light on”
By Margaret Gallagher

On Sunday morning I spoke to Brendan’s parents Collette and John Rushe who travel to Donegal each day from their home in Castlederg. “We know Brendan is not coming back, but we still hope. We spend a lot of time in the Garda Station going through video footage but have only identified him on one. That is when he arrived at the disco with his two friends” explained Collette.

Brendan attended the Christian Brothers School in Omagh where he was due to sit his exams later this year and then his A levels. But like most young lads he had to get the odd motherly nudge. “I was encouraging him so much as he was a clever boy but like all 15 year olds he had to be reminded to keep his head down with a view to going on to university.”

John and Collette have six children, Clare (17), Brendan (15), Gemma (13), Paul (11), Ursula (7), and Sarah (6). “Clare, our eldest girl, is not accepting that he will not be back home. The other children have not yet properly noticed the emptiness as we have a lot of relations home from England and also their friends are in the house every day”. Collette is a school teacher and John a sub-contractor. “We both work very hard, our whole lives centred around our children, but since last Monday work has taken a back seat along with everything else. All that matters now is finding Brendan.”

John interjected to say “These are difficult days, though we feel in our hearts there are worse to come. We have to try and keep up for the other children. We find it very difficult when we go home at night with his room there and all his belongings. Each night we leave the door open and the light on for him, we are not able to sleep when we go to bed and every sound we hear we jump up in hope that it’s him.” Clinging to a chunkey designer watch on her arm, Collette told me “This is Brendans ‘Storm’ watch which he treasured. Brendan never stayed away from home at night, he didn’t go out much but when he did, on his return, he always called into our room to let us know he was home. On Monday morning I was waiting for this and by 4 0’clock when he wasn’t home, I got up - the wind was howling and rain lashing as I checked his room. By 4.30am. I knew something must have happened.”

Sadly Collette continued “Brendan would not have known the code to phone home from Donegal and with the Euro pay-phones he wouldn’t have had the correct coins anyway. He is an independent wee lad and would not ask for help and I think he would keep out of the way of the law, as he would be frightened of uniforms. The Guards assure us that when they spoke with him he had all his faculties about him and they had no concerns. He was polite and told them his correct age and didn’t pretend to be 17 or 18 years.”

In concluding, Collette and John had a special message for the people of Donegal “We want to thank the Gardai, the people and businesses of Donegal for the tremendous support they have given us and for all the facilities they have provided. People are so good - people we don’t know - it’s unbelievable, I know people have their work to go to - they need their wages but have given it all up as if it doesn’t matter. It’s difficult for people to be here, but they are - and it is these people and their support that is keeping us going.”

Brendan's parents John & Collette Rushe

Rescue team with dog specially trained for water searches

It’s as if the elements were not happy. All last week the wind shrieked, hail and rain lashed the earth - the heavens cried. It all reflected the mood of the people. Young Brendan Rushe is still missing. Despite nine days of intensive searching, there is still no trace or clue as to his whereabouts. Perhaps there will be a happy outcome, but as days go by this becomes more and more unlikely.
All the facts have been well reported on national and local media and this piece from Saturday’s Irish Times written by Monika Unsworth ably sums up their reports.

Headed ‘A grim ending to a boys fun night out’ the sub-head read ‘The disappearance of a well-behaved Co. Tyrone teenager in Donegal Town has sparked fear and bewilderment among local people.’

The article began ‘The mist over Donegal Bay was so thick that coastguards could hardly make out the diver as his head appeared above water only a few feet away. “Anything?” one of them shouted, trying to make himself heard over the gusting wind and driving rain. The diver just shook his head, his face grim with determination as he went back under water.

Fifteen year old Brendan Rushe from Castlederg, Co. Tyrone vanished after a night out with friends in a Donegal disco. His family, who have spent every waking hour with the search operation, said they had ‘next to no hope’ of finding him alive.

It was a grim ending to what had started as a fun night out for three teenagers on Sunday. As they were still on half-term break they had been given permission by their parents to go to a disco at the Abbey Hotel in Donegal Town.

As Brendan put on a cream shirt and grey trousers and went to meet his two friends on one of the three coaches laid on to make the 45 minute journey, he was full of excitement. After all, it was only his second time to go to a disco and the night was young.

It is not clear what happened next. His friends said everybody was having a good time and thought they had even spotted Brendan talking to a girl, a rare occurrence for the polite, quiet boy with braces on his teeth. What was even more unusual was that he told them he was staying on, instead of catching the coach home with them, insisting he would take the last bus, due to leave at around 3am. instead.
Brendan never made the bus. He was spotted wandering around the town centre in the early hours of Monday, when he talked to local gardai on two occasions, giving them his name and address.

Supt. John McFadden said the officers were impressed with the teenager’s polite demeanour. “They found him very friendly and nice and had no complaints about him. He said he was going to get a bus home”.

Brendan’s uncle, Terence Rushe, a tireless member of the search party, said the fact that the teenager had actually talked to Gardai was hard to deal with. “Frankly, I can’t understand how they could talk to a 15 year boy from outside town at 4am. and just let him walk away”. After a long sigh he added: “Then again, maybe they are well used to teenagers wandering around the town on any given night, who knows?”

One of the last possible sightings of Brendan was shortly before 5am. when a teenager knocked on the front door of a B&B on the Ballyshannon Road. The landlady did not answer and saw the boy walking back towards the town. Half an hour later, a motorist saw a young man at the town’s quayside.

Since then there has been no trace of the boy, who is five feet, eight inches tall, with short dark brown hair and brown eyes.

The Rushe family’s hearts sank on Wednesday when a Garda sub-aqua unit found a pair of shoes at Druminin, around three miles north of Donegal which his mother Collette thought might be his.

For the next 24 hours a massive search operation, involving more than 100 coastguards and hundreds of volunteers from Castlederg combed every inch of bogland around Lough Mourne, Lough Eske and their feeder rivers. Police sniffer dogs, which had been given pieces of Brendan’s clothing to recognise his scent, were scouring the pathless terrain, the fog so thick that their handlers kept losing sight of them.

There was relief on Thursday when Brendan’s friends insisted the shoes were not the ones he had worn on the night in question.

Since then, much of the search operation has concentrated on the town’s bay itself, with more than 100 British soldiers from the Parachute and Prince of Wale’s own regiments combing the Northern side of the border. As he anxiously waited for the re-appearance of his unit’s divers on Thursday afternoon, Brian McSharry from Killybegs Coastguard said local people were deeply disturbed by the teenager’s disappearance. “The whole story is very peculiar, but it doesn’t look good for the young lad,” he added.

Men, women and children kept coming over to the Department of the Marine rescue vehicles to ask for news. Every inquiry was answered with a grim shake of the head.

A local shopkeeper, Mary Byrne, said people’s hearts went out to the Rushe family. “He seems to have been such a good child. It sends a shiver down the spine of any parent when you realise that you cannot watch them 24 hours a day. To think that there are always evil people out there, even in a quiet peaceful little place like this, frightens the life out of me,” she added.

Father Jim McGonagle, a Castlederg priest who has been comforting Brendan’s parents, summed up everybody’s feelings: “sure, what can you do but hope against hope?”•

Donegal Times: At time of going to press, there still was no trace of Brendan but Sgt. Ignatius Larkin, Garda spokesman, said that with a neap tide later in the week they were hopeful of a breakthrough. He also commented on the level of cross-border co-operation - indeed the turnout was so great on Sunday, the Bosco running track had to be opened to contain all the vehicles.

Donegal Times: Brendan's body was discovered on Wednesday 27th February.

The Donegal Times, The Diamond, Donegal Town, Ireland

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