‘We will always have hope, but it is the not knowing that’s torture’ – family of Irishman missing in the US

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On March 20 last year, US authorities told hikers planning to tackle the 4,250km Pacific Crest Trail to cancel their trips.  

Limiting the spread of the coronavirus – and the associated economic fall-out – requires sacrifice from everyone,” the Pacific Crest Association said.

For Carmel O’Sullivan, this sacrifice has had heartbreaking consequences because the ongoing searches for her missing son were then called off . The same association once told her it “wasn’t a babysitting service” after she rang them to say she was worried about David, who hadn’t made contact in days.

Ms O’Sullivan and her husband Con, from Midleton, Co Cork, last heard from their son on April 7, 2017, and his mysterious disappearance has rocked the family to its core.

“Every day I wake up and think, ‘Please God, let today be the day they find him’,” Ms O’Sullivan says.

“It’s the not knowing that’s torture. You’re always hoping and always waiting. His friends have moved on, they have girlfriends now or they’re getting engaged. He’s missing family moments and milestones that he should be here to celebrate. All his clothes are still here, even his books and his games.”

In March 2017, David O’Sullivan left Cork for what was supposed to be the adventure of a lifetime. He had just completed a media course as well as a degree in English and Philosophy in University College Cork, and had saved money from his job working in a local garage in Midleton to fund his trip.

He was inspired by a book called Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. The memoir by Cheryl Strayed, which was later adapted into a film starring Reese Witherspoon, describes a woman’s journey of self-discovery as she hikes the trail.

The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) runs from Mexico to Canada and takes hikers through vast desert, rough wilderness and the crests of the Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountains. Hundreds complete the five-month trek every year, but dozens of people have lost their lives in accidents, while many others have disappeared.

“We’re not a big hiking family so I had never even heard of the PCT. I’d heard of the Camino obviously but that is a picnic in the park compared to this. At the worst I thought he might fall or pull a calf muscle. I didn’t think this was possible. I thought he’d give up and go away on a holiday. There’s real hardship involved. You’re talking seven or eight days of walking with no shower or hot food and sure if you hit snow in the mountains, it’s very dangerous”.

On April 5, 2017, David arrived in Idyllwild, a town in the San Jacinto mountains, about 160km east of Los Angeles. He was around two and a half weeks into his hike, and stayed in a hotel in the town. He sent an update to his family via email, and that was the last time that Carmel heard from her son. After withdrawing some money from a Bank of America ATM, he left on the morning of April 7 for the next stage of his journey through the mountains and he has not been seen since.

Pre-Covid, volunteers from the California Irish community scoured the area looking for any signs of David. Drones have been used to capture thousands of images that have been meticulously examined for any clue, or any sign of hope. “They’ve found old shoes, tents, beds and a load of different things, but none of them were his. It’s the same as the beaches here I suppose, people lose things, the wind takes them away and the animals take them away.

“We’ve even had people who went to psychics on our behalf. There’s no harm in trying it, but I couldn’t do it personally. It’s strange the things you try, I would give anything to find out what happened that day. The psychics didn’t do any good unfortunately.”

Several hikers have given eyewitness statements over the years, thinking they may have seen David at some point on the trail. But none of these were positively confirmed.

The O’Sullivan family were due to travel to America last May, but the pandemic put a stop to that.

Carmel used the time to join forces with the mother of another hiker who went missing on the PCT to set up the Fowler-O’Sullivan Foundation.

Sally Fowler’s stepson Kris (34) vanished from the PCT in October 2016 and remains missing. Four months into his journey and with less than 700km to go, he disappeared somewhere around White Pass in Washington.

The two mothers work with a team of volunteers to guide the families of missing loved ones. “You couldn’t quantify the number of hours these people have put into looking for my son,” Ms O’Sullivan said. For her, her son Niall and husband Con, the wait sadly goes on. “We will always have hope, oh God we will. We can’t give up. He’ll never be forgotten by us.”

Source: Irish News