Northern Ireland news

Tragic end of search for Nóra Quoirin marks beginning of every parent's worst nightmare

Family handout photo of Meabh Quoirin with her daughter Nora Quoirin whose body has been found about 1.6 miles from where she was staying

FOR 10 days strangers across the world carried Nóra Quoirin in their hearts and in their prayers, willing the 15-year-old to return safely home to her distraught family.

Each twist and turn of the increasingly desperate search for the missing child was documented in the media, accompanied by the now familiar pictures, her mother Meabh's haunted face from the press conference juxtaposed with smiling images beside her firstborn, her sweet mini-me.

The private Franco-Irish family opened their photograph album to the world in the hope that one of the pictures of Nóra would spark a memory, help someone recognise her should they come across the teenager.

The hope was that she was lost but still alive and somehow safe somewhere in the dense jungle that surrounded the family's holiday cottage in Malaysia's Dusun rainforest eco-resort.

Always small, that hope faded daily as the intensive search - which continued day and night - failed to yield even a trace of Nóra.

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The 15-year-old had turned in with her family on Saturday August 8 after an 18-hour flight and a seven-hour time difference from their London home.

At 8am the following day, the Quoirins woke ready to start their two-week dream family holiday, only for her father Sebastien to find Nóra missing from the upstairs room she was sharing with her sister and brother, a window open.

Not finding her in the house or compound, and realising she was barefoot and clad only in her night clothes, her frantic family raised the alarm.

Born with the brain defect holoprosencephaly, and with lifelong special needs, they knew she was especially vulnerable.

At the height of the manhunt, which involved local police and Interpol, around 300 people were scouring the jungle, including the Seno Praq specialist police team made up of indigenous peoples with forest tracking skills.

Teams used drones and helicopters with thermal imaging and searchers played loudspeaker recordings of her mother's voice soothing voice

Known paedophiles were interviewed and police visited the homes of at least 30 local people as part of the hunt.

By this stage the family were receiving help from missing persons charity the Lucie Blackman Trust which helped to keep the case in the spotlight.

It revealed Malaysian police were treating Nóra's disappearance as a potential abduction, although officers always publicly denied there were any signs of foul play.

Her family, however, were emphatic in their belief that she had been abducted, her grandfather Sylvain Quoirin pointing out that she was "rather timid, reserved... someone very fearful" who was "absolutely not" in the habit of running off.

On Saturday, Meabh Quoirin spoke to search teams to thank them for their tireless efforts to bring her child home.

"We want to say thank you to each and every one of you. We know you're searching night and day for Nóra," she said.

"To be with us here, it means the world to us. We are so grateful for everything that you are doing for us, everyone who is helping here and not from here.

"We are extremely impressed by the effort, your expertise, your dedication and we hope you find Nóra."

Frustration and fear was building, and gnawing doubts of whether she would ever be seen again.

In an effort to break the impasse, on Sunday, Malaysian police set up a dedicated hotline for information about teenager and on Monday a reward of £10,000 - donated by an anonymous Belfast business - was made available for information leading to Nóra's safe return.

The day after she was discovered missing, an emotional Meabh Quoirin told assembled media at a press conference: "Nóra is our first child. She has been vulnerable since the day she was born. She is so precious to us and our hearts are breaking.

"We are appealing to anyone who has information about Nóra to help us find her. The police have been working extremely hard to bring Nóra home."

Then yesterday, just a day later, deputy police chief Mazlan Mansor told a press conference that a body which "resembles Nóra" had been found beside a small stream about 1.6 miles from where she was staying and investigators had "reasonable belief that it must be her".

The discovery came after "a man had phoned the police hotline at 1.15pm to say he had found a body by the waterfall".

Hours earlier, volunteer searcher Shirley Yap told reporters said she was going to look around a waterfall after hearing "she was excited about seeing a waterfall when she arrived in the resort".

The body, which "was not in any clothing" was flown to the hospital by helicopter where Meabh and Sebastien Quoirin yesterday identified their daughter.

The end of the search marking the beginning of every parent's worst nightmare.

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