Light in window still left on for missing Amy
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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 missingamy.net 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 missingamy.net 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...