Light in win­dow still left on for miss­ing Amy

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Living - - A Log -

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years be­fore the girl's dis­ap­pear­ance — a lo­cal woman, a “con­cerned mother,” sent a “ mercy letter” to the Ir­ish em­bassy in Spain, high­light­ing con­cerns for Amy's safety and in­sist­ing she needed to get back to Ire­land. Other Span­ish re­ports sug­gested that Amy had been sleep­ing rough on oc­ca­sion, was fre­quently ab­sent from school, and had not reg­is­tered for the school year be­fore she went miss­ing.

“None of that is true at all,” Au­drey says. She [Amy] was reg­is­tered for school, and of course, she never slept rough. In the months af­ter Amy's dis­ap­pear­ance two web­sites — search­foramy. com and were set up, the for­mer by Amy's aunt (and Christo­pher's sis­ter), Christine, along with Ir­ish pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tor Liam Brady, and the lat­ter by Au­drey and Dave. Each web­site claimed to be the “off­i­cal” web­site to be con­tacted with leads as to Amy's where­abouts.

Mean­while Span­ish po­lice were fail­ing to come up with any sub­stan­tial leads. The hard, bare facts of Amy's dis­ap­pear­ance were never elab­o­rated upon. The de­scrip­tion of her clothes as she left Ash­ley's house — crushed vel­vet track­suit bot­toms and a black T-shirt with the word “Diesel” — was re­leased, along with her age and height (5'5”). In other key re­spects, the po­lice made their own job more dif­fi­cult. Most child ab­duc­tion ex­perts recog­nise that the 24 hours af­ter a child is re­ported miss­ing is the most cru­cial time of all in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Er­rors com­mit­ted then can rarely be rec­ti­fied at a later stage.

As in the Madeleine McCann case, a key mis­take seems to have been not seal­ing off the coun­try's borders in the hours af­ter Amy was re­ported miss­ing. The bor­der with Por­tu­gal is a mere line in the road — even though the Ir­ish girl was still on her mother's pass­port she could eas­ily have been moved out­side of Spain. Both sides in the fam­ily felt that the Depart­ment of For­eign Af­fairs did not do enough.

Through­out the af­ter­math of Amy's dis­ap­pear­ance the Depart­ment of For­eign Af­fairs in­sisted that the Ir­ish em­bassy was pro­vid­ing “full as­sis­tance” to the fam­ily. Au­drey now says that the only help they gave re­lated to fast-track­ing her own pass­port.

Lo­cal of­fi­cials in the area in which Amy went miss­ing also re­fused fam­ily re­quests to al­low empty bill­boards to be used to dis­play her im­age. The Ir­ish me­dia were more help­ful in keep­ing the case alive, the fam­ily say, and in May of 2008, Au­drey ap­peared on The Late Late Show to make an im­pas­sioned plea for in­for­ma­tion on her daugh­ter's dis­ap­pear­ance. The haunt­ing im­ages of a child on the verge of wom­an­hood, pout­ing play­fully, were em­bla­zoned across our news­pa­pers. The mem­ory of Madeleine McCann — who went miss­ing the sum­mer be­fore — was still fresh. We won­dered if the in­tri­ca­cies of the Span­ish legal sys­tem would be as dif­fi­cult to nav­i­gate.

Un­for­tu­nately, all of the pub­lic­ity brought out the worst in some peo­ple. The fam­ily were the vic­tims of a num­ber of cruel hoaxes. Peo­ple would text the in­for­ma­tion line that they had set up claim­ing they were Amy and ask­ing credit to be put on the num­ber of a phone. “ That some­one would use our sit­u­a­tion just to get €20 credit is un­be­liev­able,” says Au­drey, “but that hap­pened.”

An­other man, with an African ac­cent, called and said he had Amy in Madrid and that the po­lice were not be in­volved. He was to call back and Au­drey waited by the phone “with my heart in my mouth”. He even­tu­ally did call back and asked for €500,000 in cash to be brought to Madrid, at which point it be­came an­other sus­pected hoax. The num­ber from which the man was call­ing turned out to be a ready-to-go-type num­ber and po­lice were un­able to trace the owner.

As the first sum­mer dragged on with­out Amy, events took an even more sin­is­ter turn. In Au­gust 2008, the home of Dave and Au­drey's lawyer in Riviera del Sol, near Fuen­girola, was bro­ken into and a lap­top that was used in the search for Amy was stolen, as well as her old Nokia mo­bile phone. The 32-yearold lawyer, Juan de la Fuente, said the bur­glars got in to his prop­erty by forc­ing a locked gar­den gate. He said: “ The stolen doc­u­ments in­cluded con­fi­den­tial po­lice re­ports about Amy's dis­ap­pear­ance. I be­lieve the bur­glary was re­lated to Amy's dis­ap­pear­ance. It makes no sense that they took doc­u­ments which fi­nan­cially are worth­less, and left be­hind all my ex­pen­sive valu­ables like TVs, com­put­ers and mu­sic equip­ment.”

While pub­licly fight­ing to have the search con­tin­ued, Au­drey strug­gled with her own pri­vate pain at what had hap­pened. Af­ter Amy's dis­ap­pear­ance, well-mean­ing friends had come into the house and had cleaned up the Ir­ish girl's room. “I took things back out of the wardrobe and threw them on the bed the way she would have them. It just didn't feel like her spirit was there, with things all per­fectly tidy.”

Au­drey's fam­ily was faced with fur­ther grief the year af­ter Amy's dis­ap­pear­ance as the teenager's cousin, Ir­ish pop star­let Bev­erly O'Sullivan, was killed in a car crash in In­dia. Bev­erly had toured with Westlife be­fore her death.

The song that plays when the web­site is opened was writ­ten and per­formed by O'Sullivan to raise aware­ness of her cousin's plight. Bev­erly and Amy had been close to each other grow­ing up in Clare Hall in Dublin, be­fore Amy moved to Spain.

Thanks to her fam­ily's ef­forts, Amy's dis­ap­pear­ance re­mained on the po­lit­i­cal agenda in Spain through­out 2009. The Span­ish prime min­is­ter pledged his coun­try's full com­mit­ment to find­ing the Ir­ish teenager. In a letter to then-Taoiseach Brian Cowen, re­leased on the eve of Amy's 17th birth­day, Jose Luis Ro­driguez Za­p­a­tero wrote: “ I would like to as­sure you and Amy's fam­ily that the Span­ish po­lice and the rel­e­vant ser­vices are car­ry­ing out their in­ves­ti­ga­tion with the ut­most dili­gence. I un­der­stand, Taoiseach, the de­spair and an­guish of Amy's fam­ily and I would like to ask you to con­vey to them my sol­i­dar­ity and the firm com­mit­ment of the Span­ish authorities to ad­vance in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion in or­der to clar­ify her dis­ap­pear­ance.”

If Za­p­a­tero was com­mit­ted, his coun­try­men in the po­lice force had not moved any closer to find­ing Amy. Frus­trated by the lack of progress, Au­drey and Dave last year de­cided to take mat­ters into their own hands. In April a € 1m re­ward was of­fered for in­for­ma­tion lead­ing to Amy's dis­cov­ery — dead or alive.

Au­drey told a press con­fer­ence in Malaga that four friends in Ire­land had put up €250,000 each. The re­ward was only valid for a month, but it suc­ceeded in putting Amy's name back in the head­lines and keep­ing the search for her alive.

The quest to find their daugh­ter ex­acted a fi­nan­cial toll on Dave and Au­drey and com­bined with the on­go­ing eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion in Spain they were soon in dire straits. By late 2009 they were re­port­edly €38,000 be­hind on their mort­gage pay­ments and there was a chance they would be evicted from their house.

Au­drey said she was in a state of “panic” be­cause there would be no one at home when her daugh­ter, whom she is con­vinced is still alive, re­turns. Since then the fi­nan­cial ship has been stead­ied some­what but staying sol­vent while all of their emo­tional en­ergy is taken up with search­ing for Amy re­mains a strug­gle. “None of this is about money,” Au­drey says. “We've seen that a mil­lion euro won't even bring her back, nec­es­sar­ily. What we re­ally need is in­for­ma­tion.”

As more and more time passes the sta­tis­ti­cal odds of find­ing Amy alive have di­min­ished greatly. One source close to the case ex­presses ex­treme scep­ti­cism that she will ever be found. “It would take a mir­a­cle at this stage. I don't ex­pect we will see her alive again.”

Au­drey and Dave can­not al­low them­selves the lux­ury of such mor­bid pes­simism. Against all the odds they con­tinue to hold out hope. Amy wanted to be a vet, Au­drey says, and maybe one day she will be able to ful­fil that am­bi­tion.

They have their own the­o­ries on what may have hap­pened to her and where she might be: “I do think that she may be in Eng­land, that she may have been brain­washed by an older man,” Au­drey says. “It's just one of the things we've picked up from speak­ing to her friends and mak­ing our own in­quiries. Our topic of con­ver­sa­tion is Amy 24/7, Dave and my­self are like a de­bate team, try­ing to come up with new ways to find her.”

It has now been more than three years since the Ir­ish teenager went miss­ing. She would have been 19 on Fe­bru­ary 7, just gone by. The Span­ish po­lice have kept the file open and re-in­ter­viewed cer­tain wit­nesses. For the fam­ily the wait­ing con­tin­ues. They plan to blan­ket Span­ish towns with fly­ers and posters of Amy.

Her brother, Dean, now 21, has moved from Spain back to Ire­land but, Au­drey and Dave will not move. In a room over­look­ing the sea there will al­ways be a light on for one Dublin girl.

“ There's noth­ing re­ally left for me in Ire­land,” Au­drey says, the tears fall­ing again. “ This was home for Amy and I want to stay here in case she ever comes home.”

STILL SEARCH­ING: A much younger Amy Fitz­patrick on her Com­mu­nion day; one of the Span­ish posters used in the des­per­ate bid to gain in­for­ma­tion; and her fa­ther Christo­pher at a spe­cial Mass and the re­lease of doves and bal­loons in her hon­our in Dublin...

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