OVERWHELMED by the support and kindness they received since Aoife’s disappearance, the Phelan family acknowledged the efforts of Gardaí who worked tirelessly to have their daughter, sister and aunt returned to them.
Ballyroan au pair Aoife was last seen alive at 8.10pm on Thursday, October 25 at Collier’s View, Portlaoise and until the recovery of her body shortly after 11am on Wednesday, November 7, the tragic case was the subject of an intensive Garda investigation, one of the biggest witnessed in Laois.
When Aoife failed to turn up for work on Friday, October 26 concern was raised immediately and her family reported her missing to Gardaí.
By Saturday morning posters were erected around Portlaoise seeking information on Aoife’s whereabouts. Gardaí began to seek assistance from the public, while media outlets carried and broadcast stories, with Aoife’s father Michael saying her disappearance was totally out of character. “We have no clue where she is or what has happened. She got a message to meet someone and off she went.”
With concerns growing, Superintendent Yvonne Lundon addressed a media briefing on Tuesday, October 30 stating Gardaí were very anxious for Aoife’s welfare and investigating all avenues.
Around Portlaoise and Mountmellick searches were conducted, Gardaí went door-to-door and quizzed motorists at checkpoints but this produced negative results.
Divers from the Garda Water Unit searched the man-made lakes in Kilminchy on Wednesday, October 31 and whilst renewing their appeal for their information they suggested foul play was highly unlikely in the case.
On Sunday, November 4, over three hundred civilian volunteers were involved in a co-oridnated search around Portlaoise and Ballyroan, while at the same time the Garda investigation switched focus dramatically, with an evaluation of the evidence gathered prompting an upgrade of the case from that of a missing persons to a murder hunt.
Gardaí seized a vehicle in which they discovered some of Aoife’s personal belongings and a suspect’s mobile phone. On Monday, November 5, Gardaí arrested a 24-year-old male, known to Aoife and who left the country shortly after she disappeared. That evening they began searching a property at the Timahoe Road.
On Tuesday morning forensic Gardaí conducted a dig on land adjoining the sealed-off property, before proceeding with ‘a targeted search’ of the River Barrow near Monasterevin prompting speculation that Aoife’s body had been disposed there. Shortly before midnight, Gardaí released the man in custody without charge.
Garda divers recommenced their search on Wednesday, while back at the Timahoe road digging continued and after removing rubble and tyres out of a deep eight to ten feet hole, Gardaí made the grim discovery of Aoife’s body.
The suspect was re-arrested at 6pm and subsequently charged.
Speaking at Aoife’s funeral mass on Saturday, Fr Gerard Ahern thanked people that went out searching the previous Sunday not knowing where to start. “People were so anxious to bring Aoife home, and thankfully that came to pass.”
He thanked the Garda Liaison Officer for the ‘professional support’ she afforded the Phelan family and personnel at the mortuary in Tullamore for their ‘sensitivity and the way they looked after Aoife’.