How do you mourn your child if they vanish without a trace?
PUBLISHED: 07:30 30 March 2019 | UPDATED: 11:45 30 March 2019
Families have spoken of the never-ending fight to find their child as new figures have revealed almost 8,500 people have been reported as missing in Suffolk over the last five years.
The information, requested from Suffolk police using freedom of information powers, show the numbers peaked in 2017, with 1,966 people reported missing.
The figures also reveal almost half of all missing person cases last year related to children - 48% of the 1,931 reports - with the youngest aged up to one. These could involve the same person disappearing multiple times.
Two of the most high-profile unresolved missing persons cases in Suffolk are that of RAF serviceman Corrie McKeague, who disappeared from Bury St Edmunds following a night on the town on September 24, 2016, and Luke Durbin, who was 19 when he vanished from central Ipswich during a night out with friends on May 11, 2006.
Read more: ‘I constantly grieve for Luke’ – Missing teenager’s mum vows to support others in new role
Read more: Mother of missing Corrie McKeague says she is ready to start searching again
For the families left behind, life goes on as they grieve for their missing child, but the fight to find them doesn’t stop.
Luke’s mum Nicki Durbin, 50, said: “I think absolutely my goal in life is to find Luke before I die.
“I don’t want my daughter being left having to do the search, to keep searching for him.”
She added: “Until the day I cannot physically or mentally do it I will always be searching for my child.”
The last confirmed sighting of Luke was on CCTV footage that shows him walking across Dogs Head Street in the direction of the bus station at 4am the next day.
In terms of how she copes with the not knowing, she said: “I feel I’m quite resigned to it because I have been dealing with it for 13 years.
“What I do is hang onto hope that eventually someone will come forward and say what’s happened to Luke that night.”
She added: “I still strongly believe someone knows what happened to my son.”
Corrie, a gunner based at RAF Honington, was seen on CCTV entering an area known as the ‘Horseshoe’ – a bin loading area behind Greggs – in Bury at 3.24am on September 24, 2016, following a night out in the town, but has never been seen since.
Suffolk police maintain that the airman, who was drunk, ended up in the waste process system after climbing into a bin following his night out, yet two searches of a landfill site in Milton, Cambridgeshire, yielded no trace.
Corrie’s mum Nicola Urquhart, 49, who works as a police officer in Scotland, is convinced he would not have chosen to have gotten into the bin, and does not believe he was put in the bin, but left the area by another means.
She reflected on the missed chances that night that could have potentially prevented what then followed.
“So many people walked past him and didn’t do anything. If one of them had called the police and said ‘there’s somebody lying asleep in a doorway’ really would it have changed history? Who knows.”
She added: “My first priority is to do everything I can to find Corrie and then when I have done that it’s to prevent anything [like this] happening to anybody else, but these things take time because life goes on.
“I still have to work. You don’t think financially how this affects you when something like that happens.”
She said her family had not yet done all they could to find Corrie, who would have been 25 last September, “but because we are still trying to do it, we can sleep at night”.
“We have not given up yet, although it may seem like that publicly. Have we come to terms that Corrie has died? No we have not, because we have not got that answer yet.”
How do you cope not knowing what has happened to your child?
For the families, they have to put one foot in front of the other as they grapple to cope with the trauma of missing a child.
Ms Durbin said she had become extremely good at compartmentalising everything and could now talk about Luke in a more removed way - but this wasn’t an easy thing to do.
“Families in my situation, they still have a life, they still have to pay the bills. When Luke went missing my daughter was only 16 and was obviously still living at home and I had to try and be a functioning mother for her and I had a mortgage.”
She added: “If it hadn’t been for my friends and family I don’t think I would be here in one piece.”
The national charity, Missing People, has also been a support for Ms Durbin, particularly by organising events for families to get together.
“It’s one of the few times I feel normal in an incredibly abnormal situation,” she said. “All of us have a missing loved one. How can somebody just disappear? It’s not a normal situation.”
She said her family were unable to mourn for Luke, but continued to grieve in whatever way that is.
“We don’t know for sure if he’s alive or dead,” she added.
Mrs Urquhart said she still does not know how her and family manage to cope.
“Day-to-day life just continues,” she said. “It won’t stop no matter what you are going through. Life continues, it’s just how you cope with it.
“I think probably one of the hardest things to deal with is the fact as a family we know a lot of information about Corrie and the investigation that haven’t been made public and so it’s very hard to deal on a day-to-day basis when you still know there’s more that could be done in trying to find Corrie.”
She said finding moments to enjoy life, even laugh, did not mean their hearts aren’t broken for what they have been through.
“Very early on myself, Makeyan and Darroch [her sons] were walking round Bury St Edmunds. This was maybe within the first month of Corrie going missing.
“We were walking up the street and one said something that made one of the boys laugh, and he’s got a loud laugh, and immediately put his hand over his face and said ‘oh, I had better not do that, we are out’ and I said ‘stop’ and looked at both of them and said ‘we are not walking about looking like we are sad 24 hours a day because that’s what the public expects of us’.”
Mrs Urquhart said she gained strength from her family, but at times support came from unexpected places, such as the team at the Bull Inn in Barton Mills who gave her shelter and emotional support during the six-month duration of the landfill search.
The Find Corrie Facebook page has been another key way she has coped, with messages of support appearing on there - publicly or privately - daily.
“It makes me appreciate how many good people there are,” she said.
She said by being able to keep talking about Corrie it helped her “no end”.
“I’m grieving a son who is missing, presumed dead, but however at the drop of a hat people will still phone me and say ‘how are you doing? What’s happening with [finding] Corrie? They haven’t forgotten about him.”
How do the police try and locate a missing person?
A Suffolk Constabulary spokesperson said: “When a missing person is reported, each case is individually assessed and the response will depend on a number of factors. These include, but not limited to, age, vulnerability, whether the person has physical or mental health conditions, the time elapsed since last seen, the circumstances behind the disappearance and whether the person has been missing before, among other factors. It’s important to point out that the reasons people go missing are many, varied and complex.
“Our searches will often focus on physically searching known places, addresses, and places of work. We may also have knowledge of where an individual may have travelled to and often reach out to neighbouring police forces to help us with our investigations.
“Missing person enquiries are carried out around the clock and quite often, a public appeal is one of the final options we may use to help us in our search.
“We would like to express our thanks to the public and press for their continued support with all the force’s appeals.”
The charity Missing People offer a “lifeline” to the thousands who go missing every year
Paul Joseph, head of helplines at Missing People, said: “Someone is reported missing every 90 seconds in the UK. Every one of these cases is different, however our research shows that up to eight in every 10 missing adults go missing due diagnosed or undiagnosed mental health issues.
“Other common reason adults go missing include; homelessness, problems at home including relationship breakdown and abuse or domestic violence. These issue also affect a large number of children, we have also found that seven in 10 young people who have been sexually exploited have also been reported missing.
“Missing People is an independent charity and is a lifeline to the 180,000 people who go missing each year in the UK, and to their families and friends left behind.
“Thanks to the generous support of partners including players of People’s Postcode Lottery, we are able to operate a free and confidential helpline 24 hours a day to provide non-judgemental advice and guidance to anybody who is missing or away from home, as well as practical and emotional support to those dealing with the heartbreak of missing a loved one. Anyone affected by the issue of missing can call our helpline on 116000”