If you ever lose faith in the internet, go to the Daniel Morcombe Foundation Facebook page.
What you’ll find is some true Aussie spirit, more apparent than ever today, because Friday the 27th of October is the Day for Daniel; a day in honour of the 13-year-old boy whose life was cut short by a predator.
Listen: Jessie Stephens recommends the gripping podcast which captures the moment Police coaxed a confession out of Daniel Morcombe’s killer. Post continues after audio.
Daniel Morcombe’s parents, Denise and Bruce Morcombe, established the award-winning foundation in 2005 as a way of coping with the loss of their son, whose absence led to one of Australia’s biggest ever child missing persons investigations. The aim of the foundation is to educate children on how to protect themselves and prevent entering into dangerous situations. Wearing red, the colour of the shirt that Daniel wore on the last day of his life, the Morcombes have travelled across Australia to speak to thousands of students and educators about their experience, and what they have learnt about child safety.
On the Day for Daniel, the Morcombes will conduct “Australia’s biggest child safety lesson” online so that as many as possible can be spared Daniel’s tragic – and potentially avoidable – fate.
On 7th December, 2003, twice-convicted child sex offender Brett Peter Cowan noticed Daniel waiting alone at a bus stop near his home on the Sunshine Coast. Fatefully, the bus that Daniel had hoped to catch, drove straight past him, giving Cowan the chance to offer Daniel a lift in his car, which the innocent child accepted.
It would be almost a decade before his family found his remains.
Denise and Bruce Morcombe never gave up in their search for their son. They relentlessly pursued each of the hundreds of leads they were given by the public, no matter how far into the darkest recesses of society it took them, and insisted that the police do the same. Their pleas for a coronial inquest were eventually heeded in 2011. At the inquest, the bus driver who had ignored Daniel gave the impression that he wasn’t affected by any remorse or guilt, which the Morcombes felt was an insult to Daniel. But the Morcombes didn’t know that the police were on the verge of a major breakthrough.
A gangly local man of quiet demeanour by the name of Brett Peter Cowan was called to give evidence. Denise Morcombe later said that she knew he was their man, because the moment he walked into the court room, his presence chillingly silenced it.
"I just got a really cold shiver," Denise told 60 Minutes in a 2014 interview.
Cowan's evidence made it clear that he was a serial liar; but there would be a time in the following months when he crucially told the truth. Unbeknownst to anyone at the inquest, the Queensland police had been conducting an undercover operation targeting Cowan, one of the original suspects, because he was a local who had already served time in jail for unspeakably violent sexual crimes on two young boys. Cowan, believing he was speaking to the head of a major crime syndicate that would give him work, confessed to Daniel's murder, and took 'the boss' to where he had dumped Daniel's body, so many years before.
It was of course the saddest of moments, but the Morcombes' promise to their son that they would find him was finally able to be fulfilled.
In August 2014, Bruce Morcombe published a book, Where's Daniel, giving his account of the harrowing years the Morcombe family spent search for their son, his killer, and bringing that killer to justice. Out of respect for Daniel, and mercifully for the reader, the book doesn't provide detail on the physical evidence. Instead, Bruce speaks of the toll Daniel's absence took on his family and marriage, and mentions the most notable challenges, such as their discovery that Cowan had a history of violent sexual crimes against very young children and should never have been out on parole.
Which is why the Morcombes, through their foundation, have been determined that no family should suffer as they have.
Cowan was given a life sentence with a 20-year non-parole period, but the Australian community, who have rallied around the Morcombes since the day Daniel disappeared, would never stand for the repeat child sex offender and murderer to be released. Cowan, who is even reviled by his fellow inmates at the Wolston Correctional Centre, is and will forever be one of the most despised criminals in Australian history.
But the community is now safe from him, and more aware of dangerous predators like him; and we have the Morcombes, and Daniel, to thank for that.