Mother scours river in search for missing student

THE distraught mother of a university student who went missing almost two months ago will spend today trawling a river in a boat for signs of her son’s body.

While many families will gather to celebrate Mothering Sunday, Donna O’Halloran will instead brave the elements in a tiny dinghy on the River Forth, hoping to find closure in the icy waters.

Her only child, David, 18, disappeared on 18 January as he made his way home to the Stirling University campus
following a night out with friends. He opted to get out of a taxi and walk before reaching his accommodation
because he did not have enough money to pay the fare.

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Donna O’Halloran, 42, ­believes her son fell into a swollen burn that leads to the River Forth, and has taken it upon herself to continue the search that Central Scotland Police scaled down last month.

Having bought a dinghy for £500 and two dry suits using money donated to them, she and David’s stepfather, Malcolm McDougall, 46, have already spent two days combing the riverbank in Stirling.

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Yesterday they took to the water at South Alloa, in Clackmannanshire, and today they plan to return to a spot near Cornton Vale Prison in Stirling.

Donna, who usually spends Mother’s Day with her son at their home in Kilmaurs, Ayrshire, said that today will be particularly painful to deal with. “Mother’s Day simply will not exist this year,” she said. “I will be here, on this dinghy, searching the water for my son’s body. I have to find it, I simply have to.

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“There is no way I could sit at home, wondering and waiting for the knock on the door, or for something to happen.”

Donna, who was housebound for 11 years with a spinal problem and has to fight extreme pain to get into the boat, added: “I just feel so empty inside. My boy isn’t here and I have to find him.”

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While dozens of volunteers assisted police in the days after David went missing, and some 16,000 people have joined a Facebook campaign, the couple are now only being helped by two people during the five-hour daily stints.

David, a maths and secondary education student, is said to have drank half a bottle of vodka in less than an hour before going to the Dusk nightclub in Stirling. He left at 1am in a taxi but got out at a shop near the university at about 1.15am because he was £3.80 short of the fare.

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Donna said her son was then spotted jogging along Aithrey Road towards his halls of residence, but inexplicably went past the campus and ventured through a field.

He arrived at a dairy farm wet, with cuts on his hands from having clambered over barbed wire, and workers pointed him in the right direction of the university.

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His wallet was found in the field but while he was then spotted at 2am outside the campus entrance, he again walked in the wrong direction and was caught on CCTV at 2.19am in nearby Bridge of Allan.

Donna was yesterday highly critical of the Central Scotland Police investigation and said it took too long for the search operation to be launched because of extreme high tides.

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She said: “It has been suggested that David was simply drunk and then suffered from hypothermia, but I don’t quite believe that.

“I have researched hypothermia extensively over the last few weeks and it doesn’t add up with the way the CCTV images showed him. He jogged along the road, for goodness sake. In my mind his drinks were spiked and I truly believe there was some foul play ­involved here. Unfortunately there’s only one way of finding that out and that is to find his body, and it’s this that drives me on.”

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David is described as being 5ft 5in tall, with brown hair and blond highlights, and at the time of his disappearance was wearing a white T-shirt with a black and green checked shirt.

Central Scotland Police yesterday defended their search operation, which they said was hampered by torrential rain, snow and ice, and involved a number of agencies, including mountain rescue teams and the Coastguard.

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They also insisted that, like other missing person inquiries, the investigation would be treated as a potential homicide until shown otherwise, and warned Donna about taking to the river.

A spokeswoman said: “Our divers and boat crews have experienced troublesome conditions in the water and an inexperienced user of the river may well encounter difficulties which may require our services to assist in such circumstances.”