By LOREN O’KEEFFE
The last time I wrote for Mamamia the story (which you can read here) eventuated in an interview with Channel Ten.
A woman who works at a medical centre in QLD had asked her husband to record that night’s episode of The Project – there was a segment on sustainability she wanted to see. When she sat down and watched the whole episode the next day, she realised the man she’d spoken with two weeks prior was a Missing Person from Victoria. My brother, Daniel.
After reporting it to Crime Stoppers three weeks earlier, the woman called them back to see if the missing man she’d met had been found, only to be told it was none of her business. Thankfully still curious, she returned to our website on 3 January 2012, and called our hotline. As she very clearly explained the encounter from five weeks earlier, I knew – for the first time since his disappearance – that Dan was alive.
He had called himself James (Dan’s middle name), said he was from Melbourne and the woman he spoke with had paid enough attention to his facial features, mannerisms and demeanor that I flew to Brisbane immediately. I did not inform police, aware that there may be accompanying CCTV and that the Privacy Act may obstruct my viewing it (as it had for Mum regarding footage from the day Dan actually went missing).
I was able to view the CCTV footage and confirm that my gut was right – it was Dan. Mum, Dad and Dan’s partner flew up immediately and we spent two months searching South East Queensland. This remains the only confirmed sighting we have had of Dan, and despite our testimony and indisputable evidence, we’re still waiting on a police video expert’s analysis. If/when that happens, Victoria Police might consider giving carriage of Dan’s case to Queensland Police. But it’s been a year – Dan could be anywhere in Australia now. Hence my all-consuming social media campaign, Dan Come Home.
I said to myself I’d never do this – write to you like you’re actually reading. I read posts addressed to you on Facebook and sigh – you’re not actually reading it. Are you? You never used to be interested in social media – much preferring RL interactions. Plus, I can’t imagine you’re in a space that facilitates much interweb activity. I think it’s peace and tranquility you were seeking to win your battle against the depression and anxiety.
I had to write you messages like you might actually be reading them when I went up to Brisbane in January, trying to find you after the sighting. The staff and volunteers at hostels, services, shelters etc said all they could do under the law was give you a note if they saw you.
I gave them your photo, a poster and some business cards, then I’d write you a quick note with genuine hope that you would soon read it. That was hard. I never heard back, and I often thought ‘oh, I can’t see Dan passing through here – it’s not his kind of place’ anyway. But I do question my understanding of you nowadays, since I don’t really know you anymore right now.
It’s been over a year since I saw you, Dan. That’s the longest I’ve ever had to go without seeing your smile and hearing that laugh. I’m terrified that those sights, sounds and effortlessly hilarious ‘Dad jokes’ of yours will fade before I see you again. I wish I had more videos of you being you.
I don’t know where to begin – a lot has happened since you left – but in case you ever do have the chance to read this, here are some things that will shock (but pleasantly surprise) you about your siblings.
Kate got her Masters! Turns out the drama-queen sister is now an academic. After performing a very moving one-woman show about your disappearance at this year’s Adelaide Fringe, Kate went on to get her Master of Education at Melbourne Uni, and is now working at the Sydney Symphony. She lives in Sydney with Ivor. Did you meet Ivor? Probably not, since the first time I met him he was creating dancomehome.com.
Vicki is a fitness freak! The eldest, most grounded, sensible sister has turned her second dining room into a gym and works out daily. She runs 10km in under 50 minutes and has just about every fitness App on the market. After helping with the search full-time for the first 6 months, she’s now back at work part-time and is planning a family holiday to Japan with the kids (who all miss you very much). She’s even thinking of taking me as the translator/tour guide (I’m keen if she’s paying).
I can cook! I’ve been at home a lot since you went missing. I spend my days emailing, drafting prose, making phone calls, appealing to communities, writing letters to organisations, designing posters, t-shirts, stickers, billboards, banners, liaising with media and police and trying to keep the family as informed as possible. All from our teeny tiny apartment that we’ve accumulated even more treasures in since you went away. I try to make sure that all the housework is done for when Ru gets home, which has prompted me to try my hand at cooking. Turns out I am actually pretty good.
Although Ruth’s not a blood sister, I know you both very well, and what I saw form over the 5 years was a bond just as strong, if not stronger. She’s doing really well at work – she’s been presenting at conferences all over Australia. Her passion for mental health has been reignited because of this journey you’ve sent us on. Oh, and we hung out with Ashton Kutcher (who knows all about you, by the way) and were awarded the most positively reviewed Airbnb hosts in the country last week. We’ve met some incredible people and made friends for life.
One of the very few perks of having an absent employer is that I get to go down to Geelong and hang out with Nana a lot more. She broke her hip this time last year, but made the kind of recovery she’s famous for. She’s still as strong as an ox and will be turning 100 in January – we always said she’d get a letter from the Queen, didn’t we? I’d really love it if you could be home for that.
I think you’d be really proud of all of us. We’ve all tried to better ourselves for your sake, so that we’re even more awesome by the time you get back. Despite being the youngest, you taught us all to be better human beings both while you were here, and while you’re still away.
I’ve been looking forward to preparing your welcome home feast ever since Ruth recognised my culinary successes. We can share our new stories, remember our old ones, and I can tell you about all the lives you’ve had a positive impact on. Whatever you feel like and whenever you’re ready, I’ll be waiting for the call.
I love you no matter what – I hope you remember that.
To mark the anniversary of the sole confirmed sighting of Daniel O’Keeffe, we’re launching ‘All Eyes on Daniel’ – a campaign imploring the Australian public to do what they can on 30 November 2012 to continue the spread of awareness that we’re so reliant upon. Please join and share: All Eyes on Daniel
For more information on Dan, the background of his disappearance and our search for him, please see www.dancomehome.com