I keep thinking about Daniel O’Keeffe.
When I read the news last Tuesday that Daniel’s body had been found underneath his family’s home, I actually said, ‘WHAT?” out loud at my desk. I stood up. Went straight to a TV.
After a four year search – including the phenomenally successfully Come Home Dan social media campaign crafted by Dan’s sister Loren, four years of suspected sightings, media interviews and Facebook appeals – it was verging on incredulous to hear that Daniel O’Keeffe was found underneath his parents’ house. Daniel’s father had the horrific experience of discovering his beloved son’s body when digging under the house last week. The back of the family home is built into a limestone hill. As a family friend has explained, “Dan was found in a tight space between a wall of the house and solid rock earth – a space that is very difficult to access.”
My brain has been turning this story over and over like a Rubik’s cube. And I have all these questions. Was Daniel there the whole time? Or did he make his way back to the family home recently to take his life? Was he ever in Brisbane where he was sighted? Or did the then-24 year old walk out of the family lounge room four years ago, go under the house and cram himself into that tight space deliberately? Or is the whole thing some tragic case of misadventure? Was Daniel trying to reach something in that space only to find himself trapped?
Daniel’s story reminds me of the tragic disappearance of Sunshine Coast woman Tabbatha Hodge in 1995. You’ll be hard pressed finding anyone over the age of 40 in South-East Queensland who doesn’t recall the story. Tabbatha had spent weeks organising her own 21st birthday party and then failed to show up on the Saturday night. Red flags were immediately waving. Friends and police quickly realised Tabbatha had last been seen getting into her car at 11pm on the Friday night to drive home from a friend’s house. She was never seen again. Three years of “Have you seen Tabbatha?” posters, three years of newspaper ads, public pleas for information and even a $50,000 reward – nothing. NOBODY had seen Tabbatha Hodge WHERE WAS SHE? That’s what everyone kept asking. And then in 1998 a canal at Twin Waters was dredged and there was Tabbatha’s car. Her death had been the result of a tragic car accident on a night of bad weather.
Two young people go missing. Two answers that took everyone by surprise. Two people who (it seems) were never going to be found alive despite the best efforts of their families, the police force and a vigilant, determined public. And in both cases the general public kept their interest and their vigilance looking for Daniel and Tabbatha the whole time.
And that interest – regardless of the outcome – is so often key.
Approximately 100 people go missing in Australia every day. Many are found fairly quickly but others – like William Tyrell, Daniel Morcombe, Sharon Phillips and the Beaumont Children – seem to vanish into thin air.
Which is why it’s so incredibly important that we keep showing up. We mustn’t let what happened to Daniel (or Tabbatha) make us more reluctant to repost stories on social media or to report anything we heard or saw no matter how seemingly irrelevant. We must continue to treat each and every missing person story as a story that we as a community can solve. Because sometimes we will.
And while the outcome for Daniel O’Keefe is one that none of us wanted or even saw coming Daniel’s legacy is huge.
In 2013 Loren O’Keeffe founded the Missing Persons Advocacy Network to help other families who are going through the horror of searching for a loved one. The site offers the Missing Persons Guide –“ a world-first practical guide of what to do when someone goes missing. The Guide expedites critical processes, minimising time wastage when efficiency matters most.” What we know is that when someone goes missing those first 48 hours are key and this website and guide take you by the hand and walk you through the important steps to take from notifying friends to accessing free photocopying for community groups at places like Office Works.
As for me, perhaps it’s time to move on and stop asking “What happened to Daniel O’Keeffe?’ and instead start asking another now far more important question: Where is William Tyrell?
You can contact the Missing Persons Advocacy Network here.