In one of the last pictures taken of Nora Quoirin, a photograph released by her family as the search to find their little girl continued, she’s seen seated beside her mother.
The same curly hair, the same gentle eyes… the resemblance between mother and daughter is so striking it brings a smile to your face – and tears to your eyes.
That lovely and loving image of Meabh, her arms clasped around her child’s waist, drawing her close, will forever now be treasured by Nora’s family.
‘Every parent’s worst nightmare’… that’s the line we all resort to, isn’t it? In this case ‘worst nightmare’ doesn’t even come close.
In what nightmare could any parent ever have conceived of a horror such as this?
A vulnerable young girl suddenly, inexplicably missing in an unfamiliar and dangerous environment so very far from home.
Her mother Meabh and father Sebastien pleading for help, their minds surely racing with a thousand hellish scenarios but all the time clinging to hope, some desperate diminishing hope, that Nora would be returned to them safe and well.
I can’t even imagine what that would be like, the agony they will have gone through in the days since they discovered their child missing from the room she’d shared with her siblings.
The family were staying at the Dusan resort south of Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. The cluster of cottages in this beautiful eco resort is bounded by rainforest. It must have seemed like heaven – the children so excited, Meabh and Sebastien looking forward to the fun they would all have together.
Fifteen-year-old Nora, who was born with holoprosencephaly, a rare brain condition that affected her both mentally and physically, was, like the rest of her family, a seasoned traveller. But on holiday she would never stray off on her own.
What panic her parents must have gone through when they discovered her gone. She’d been sleeping with her siblings in an upstairs room. Downstairs, a window in the cottage was discovered open.
And then the long, torturous days of searching, working with the local police and volunteers, having to make media appeals – and all the time, as Meabh herself put it, their hearts just breaking.
The Lucie Blackman Trust, a charity that works with the families of missing people, provided support.
All lines of inquiry were considered, including the distressing theory that Nora had been abducted. Known paedophiles were questioned.
And as if the horror of that was not enough for her parents to bear…
Local trackers familiar with the dangers of the jungle terrain described the deadly hazards that would face someone lost there – poisonous snakes, insects whose bites would kill, lack of food and water.
For Meabh and Sebastien the thought of their little girl alone and frightened in the dark must have been utter torment.
In their desperation they made an audio recording for soldiers, police and volunteers to use as they scoured the rainforest for Nora.
Is there any more haunting and harrowing scene than those images of this we watched on television? Searchers pausing in silence as the agonised voice of a mother cries out over the wilderness words of comfort and love for her lost girl.
“Nora darling, Nora I love you, Mum is here.”
As the search continued there was talk of it being wound down.
Meabh thanked those taking part, plaintively exhorting them to continue.
“We see you working so hard, and also praying with us and being with us,” she said.
“You have given up your time. 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.
“Praying with us…being with us…”
On the other side of the world too, we were praying with them, hoping for them, hoping against hope for Nora.
For her wider family back here in Northern Ireland, in France where her father comes from, in London where the couple and their children live, it must have been, it still must be, agony.
To watch from afar and feel so very, very helpless.
Her aunt organised an appeal to further fund the search, a local businessman generously – and anonymously – donated £10,000 for an award for information. Westlife, on tour in Malaysia, asked their fans to help in any way they could. Everything that could be done, was being done. But in the end, it was the outcome that everyone had dreaded.
What small comfort can any of us now offer her poor parents and all those who knew and loved Nora?
Perhaps the knowledge that for a brief, short time their lovely little girl touched all our lives.
That thousands of us who never knew Nora Quoirin have shed tears for her and prayed for her and hoped for her and for them.
That sweet wee girl in the photograph being hugged in her mother’s arms – and now and forever held in her family’s hearts.