Coast resident pens touching letter to Daniel
FOR more than 10 years, Debbie Southern has driven past the Kiel Mountain overpass.
Whether heading to work or home, to shop, to go about any number of tasks, she has glanced at the spot where Daniel was last seen alive in public.
Like countless others everywhere, she has wondered, shared the news of each new piece of the puzzle and hoped and prayed for answers.
This weekend, she and her family paid their respects and delivered their letter to Daniel.
Debbie's letter to Daniel
NEARLY every day, for more than 10 years, I have passed by the overpass where your memorial now stands and thought of you.
When you disappeared back in December 2003, we could not understand what had happened. We tried to recall anything that might help the police in their investigations.
I had passed by on that Sunday but I did not see you. Were you already gone?
Each day, as we drove on this busy road, we watched as the police went about their search, establishing a tent command just down the road.
We listened to every update on your disappearance, and cried when your parents pleaded for your return. We wanted you to come home. Where were you?
As the days, months and years went by, we were amazed at how strong your parents were, so determined in their resolve to find you, to bring you home, and to see justice done.
I once saw your mum in the supermarket in Nambour. Her eyes told the story: sheer torment. I saw this same look in all the photos of her, in the papers, on the TV news. We all wanted to take some of this pain away, but how could we? Day-to-day life rolled on, but we did not forget about you.
My three children, the eldest just a few years younger than you, would often ask on the way to school: "Have they found Daniel yet?" "No," I would answer. "Not yet."
As the years stretched on the questions changed: "Mum, do you think Daniel is dead?"
When Bruce and Denise asked us to tie a red ribbon to our mailbox and not to take it down until you came home, we found the biggest, brightest red ribbon, a present wrapping, and placed it proudly on the very top of our mailbox. We were united as a community in our resolve to never forget you.
Every day when we passed by your roadside memorial, you were in our thoughts. Each day, when we returned home with our children, safe and sound, we would see the red ribbon and remember you.
Then, in the car one day, we heard the news that you had been found. Finally, your mum and dad had some answers and you could now come home and be laid to rest. "Yes, kids, Daniel has been found."
I thought about taking the red ribbon down from our mailbox then and returning it to your parents, tattered and worn after years of being out in the weather.
But something was still missing. We still needed to see justice done. Little did we know that the evil was lurking in our community, so close by.
Walking among us was this "scumbag predator". But then, finally, with a "stunning" police operation, he was charged.
We were so close yet we knew that we would have to stay strong for just a little bit longer. We knew that your parents, who had been so generous and had shown amazing resolve, working tirelessly to protect our children, would see this through for us all. And so they did!
This week has brought a huge amount of sadness for your family and our community, but also a sense of great relief. Finally, you are home and justice has finally been done.
Today, I walked to my mailbox and pulled off the fragments of the red ribbon.
I wrote you a note: "This red ribbon hanging outside our home has disintegrated over many years, but not your family's and the community's determination, to see justice done."
And for the first time in more than 10 years, I stopped at the overpass today with my youngest son, now 12, to leave your family this message.
We thank your parents, Daniel, and your whole family, for their strength and courage and for making us a better and safer community. We have travelled this terrible journey with you all.
Daniel, rest in peace.
We will never forget you.