THE family of Matthew McCallan has expressed its ‘heartfelt thanks’ to the hundreds of people who helped search for the 15-year-old on Sunday and Monday.
Matthew’s uncle, Plunkett McCallan (pictured above), a well known figure in Tyrone GAA a former Carrickmore goalkeeper, also paid tribute to local residents who opened their community hall and provided tea and soup and sandwiches for all the volunteers.
“Mathew’s friends came to search and there were people from all over Tyrone, from teenagers right through to pensioners. It shows what ordinary people can still do,” Mr McCallan told the UH.
“The people of Fintona, led by by Pat McAtee and Mark Donnelly, opened their hall with ladies preparing tea and soup and sandwiches for those taking part in the search. Their generosity will never be forgotten.”
Mr McCallan recalled the agonising hours after Matthew was first reported missing, and the heartbreak of being told the devastating news that his nephew’s body had been found.
“I received a call on Sunday morning, close to 8.45am, that the alarm had been raised that young Matthew had not returned home after going to the ‘Jamboree’ in Fintona the previous night.
“I headed straight to Fintona with my son, Jack,” he continued. “As the hours went on, crowds kept coming and coming, and the road was packed with traffic. I went home at one stage to change, and we walked through fields looking everywhere for Matthew. We were out to 3am on Monday morning. It was hard to stop for the night, you just want to keep going…”
Early on Monday morning, Mr McCallan made his way back to Fintona after getting ‘little sleep’.
He added, “Going down the road, I was thinking ‘it’s Monday morning and people have to get on with their lives and Christmas is coming’.
“Far from it: There were hundreds of people all waiting for instructions, and others on the move; right from Seskinore Forest.
Matthew’s mother, Frances, has thanked everyone for their help. As a family we again would like to thank everybody, every volunteer who came from all over and the people of Fintona for their generosity.”
Mr McCallan said he was with a group ready to resume their search, when a friend of the family ‘wagged’ them down. I knew by his face he had something bad to say, and, sure enough, he told us, ‘They found a body… They think it’s Matthew’.”
It was a scene of anguish and heartbreak, where 15-year-old Matthew’s remains were discovered.
Mr McCallan said, “I could see the devastation on volunteers’ faces when the search was suspended.
“There were tears in their eyes. They were all there because there was hope.”
Describing his nephew as a ‘modest wee cub’, Mr McCallan added, “As the years went on, he was growing into a young man, and his friends say he was always a source of comfort, and lifted them if they needed him when they had a setback, or weren’t feeling great.
“Matthew seemed to light up a room, and met any setback with a big smile. He loved outdoor life, and going to his cousins, who have horses and stables and a tractor. He loved all that. At 15, you are ready to conquer the world. Matthew was going towards adulthood and every year he grew in stature and character.”
Mr McCallan also also appealed for young people to take safety measures when socialising over Christmas.
He said, “We know the festive season is coming, and everyone is looking forward to going out.
“But we would ask young people: Take your time and make sure your phone is fully-charged before you leave home.
“Write the numbers of neighbours and friends on paper, and carry them in your pocket or handbags, and don’t hesitate to knock on a door if you need help. People will not turn you away.
“Don’t be afraid to call home. Young people are not a torture. We would rather get the call, ‘come and lift me’.
“We don’t want any family to go through what we have.”
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