Leona O'Neill: Why we'll never forget Noah Donohoe
Following the shocking death of Belfast teenager Noah Donahoe, Leona O'Neill's heart goes out to his devastated family as she explains how this special young man brought communities together in searching for him and why he will be remembered for years to come
I don't think any of us could fail to be moved by the tragic story of young Noah Donohoe, the 14-year-old boy who went missing a week ago and whose body was later found in north Belfast.
The teen had gone out on his bike on Sunday evening, like boys up and down the country do, and never came home. For a week the people of north Belfast, desperate to find him, walked the streets, searched in gardens and parks, put their everything into finding him as if he were their own.
People beyond Belfast sat helplessly waiting for even a scrap of information that might lead to him being found, hoping against hope that the young man whose beautiful smile beamed out from social media and from across the front pages of the newspapers would be discovered alive and would be able to come home to his heartbroken mother.
There was a desperation, anxiety and sadness that settled over Northern Ireland for a week. How could a child just disappear like this? People horrified by the prospect of a child going missing demanded answers. Every parent in the land held their breath for news that the boy described as "the perfect gentleman" by his school headmaster would be found safe and well.
But it wasn't to be: tragically, on Saturday morning search and rescue teams discovered Noah's body in a storm drain in north Belfast.
The grief and heartache rippled out from that tragic scene across every household in Northern Ireland, because we had all taken this young lad to our hearts. We had seen the beautiful photos of him as a child, videos of him playing guitar. We had read all the tributes to this brilliant and talented young man with his whole life ahead of him. We had all prayed for his safe return. We had all held our children a little tighter that night and whispered how much we loved them one more time because of young Noah.
Our hearts broke as one for Noah's mum, Fiona. The family released a statement saying that he and his mum were "each other's world".
"Noah's mummy always told him that he would change the world," it read. "He was very special. It's very hard to do justice or honour the extraordinary relationship Noah and his mummy shared. In his 14 years, his mummy got so much from their special bond, he taught his mummy so much. They were each other's world."
And in the darkness of their own grief, they found the strength to thank everyone who helped in the search.
"We need to express our heartfelt gratitude for the support, outpouring of love and empathy we have received," they said.
"From walking with us, both physically and spiritually, to feeling our pain, we recognise that everyone has lost Noah."
Only those who brought up a special young man such as Noah could have found such words.
Noah did change things. He brought people from all walks of life, from all communities together to walk in hope that he would be found. People from loyalist Tiger's Bay and republican Ardoyne banded together to search day and night for the young man. People from across Belfast forgot everything, dropped everything and ran to a heartbroken and desperate family's assistance.
Businesses across the city provided sustenance to searchers. And when Noah was found and the outcome was so very tragic, the community again surrounded his heartbroken mother with love and lifted her up.
Noah Donohoe was a beautiful, gifted, loving child. My friend, who looked after Noah in daycare back when he lived in Strabane, described the young Star Wars fan as a "gentle and sensitive wee man". His headmaster said his "caring nature, calm demeanour and big smile were some of his great gifts that helped others do their best". His rugby coach said that Noah "had a heart of a lion". His mummy said he was "her world".
He may have left this world, but such a bright, shining light could never ever go out. Northern Ireland will never forget Noah Donohoe, his big heart and his big smile.