Daniel Morcombe: A tribute
Nine years after Sunshine Coast teenager Daniel Morcombe was abducted while waiting for a bus, Bruce and Denise Morcombe prepare to bury the remains of their much-loved son.PT4M4S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2axfh 620 349 December 6, 2012
It was the eyes that grabbed you first.
Then the smile.
Both looked like they belonged to a much younger boy. It was the openness. The sparkle. The look that said at 13, the most mischievous thing he could think to do was sneak another animal into his bedroom. His was the face of well-loved, happy, secure children everywhere.
Daniel Morcombe. Photo: Supplied
Which is why, on December 7, 2003, when Daniel James Morcombe’s eyes and smile began beaming out from TV reports, newspapers, missing posters and police bulletins, people took notice.
And they kept taking notice for more than 11 years.
Today, attention will turn to a former Sunshine Coast tow-truck driver, Brett Peter Cowan, who has been charged with Daniel’s murder, child stealing, deprivation of liberty, indecent treatment of a child and interfering with a corpse.
The 44-year-old, who legally changed his name to Shaddo N-unyah Hunter sometime between 2003 and 2010, was arrested in a Perth caravan park on August 13, 2011. Two days later he fronted Brisbane Magistrates Court, but did not enter a plea. He’ll do that, for the first time, on Monday, when he is officially arraigned.
He has been charged under his natural name and according to his lawyers, never asked otherwise. But then, between his arrest and his committal hearings, Cowan has not said much, at least not during his court appearances, instead furiously scribbling in a notebook he took in to the accused box, writing whenever something regarding DNA evidence or the like took his fancy.
During the committal, Cowan did not look at the Morcombes. But they looked at him. And looked and looked, until the evidence became too much and they had to look away.
That evidence can’t be mentioned this close to the trial. To do so could force a mistrial and everyone from police to the Morcombes themselves have warned those watching to be careful with what they write or say on social media and in articles.
To come this far and have an errant Tweet or Facebook post dismantle years of work, to send the Morcombes back to the time of “Not Knowing” is unthinkable.
But after more than a decade of dealing with red herrings, fake leads, attention seekers, false prophets, and the plain malicious, there is nothing the Morcombes haven’t seen or been told. Or unprepared for.
It wasn’t until August 17, 2011, when then Queensland Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson rang to tell them a shoe, the same brand as Daniel’s favourite pair, the ones he had been wearing when he set off to go Christmas shopping and never returned, had been found on a macadamia nut farm in the nearby Glass House Mountains, that the Morcombes had something tangible to hold on to.
Three days later, another shoe, same brand, was found in the search area. But after years of having their hopes for answers sent sky high – the unnamed woman who called the Morcombes to say she had been in the car Daniel had been abducted in and gave details of his fate to “clear her conscience” in 2007, the Douglas Jackaway, a known Sunshine Coast pedophile, lead in May 2009, - this time the family waited.
And then, on August 21, 2011, while at Denise’s parents’ joint 80th birthday party in Melbourne, came the news a bone, one of an eventual three, had been found.
The media descended, as it had every time a “breakthrough” in the case was made.
But this time was different. A week later, the news came that seven years and nine months since the almost 14-year-old had walked to a local bus stop under the Kiel Mountain Road overpass near his Palmwoods home and disappeared, Daniel had been found.
The Morcombes were forced to deal with questions about “closure” and it being “good news”. But there is no such thing as closure for families who have lost a loved one. And the only good news would have been that Daniel was being returned to them, whole and hearty.
But that’s not how this Sunshine Coast story ended.
It would be more than a year before Daniel was released back to his family. He was buried, with the Christmas gifts he had never got to open, on December 7, 2012, nine years to the day after he went missing.
Until December 7, 2013, parents, raising their families in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, more a smattering of small country villages than bustling metropolises less than 90 minutes outside the state’s capital, thought nothing of letting their children run, play and walk on the streets. This was the Sunshine Coast. Not the Gold Coast. Bad things didn’t happen here. Daniel, his bright eyes and wide smile, the red ribbons still hanging in his memory, changed that.
He had spent that drizzly morning fruit picking with his twin brother Bradley and older brother Dean. It was the rain which delayed the brothers, meaning they missed going to a Christmas lunch with their parents in Brisbane.
Daniel decided he’d seize his unexpected spare time and head to the Coast’s biggest shopping centre, Sunshine Plaza in Maroochydore about 30 minutes away, to deal with those pieces of hair which were getting in his eyes and buy some gifts.
He headed not to an official bus stop, but to one locals knew about, sheltering from the rain under the overpass on Nambour-Connection Road. He waited and waited for the 1.35pm bus, with no way of knowing it had broken down. At 2.14pm, a replacement bus motored past, but it had been tasked with heading straight to the Plaza to try and put some sense back into the Sunday timetable. Three minutes later, when a second bus passed, the driver knowing to keep an eye out for the boy waiting in the red T-shirt, didn’t see him. Daniel was gone.
Hundreds of people reported seeing him waiting there, kicking the dirt, and shaking the hair out of his eyes. Parents and grandparents and uncles and aunties who worried about a child alone in the rain. But they didn’t stop. Come this morning, the Morcombes will be one step closer to finding out who did.
They’ll be there. Every day of the trial, which has been set down for up to nine weeks.
The court will hear the case from Monday to Thursday. Friday is administration day – for more than just the legal community – the Morcombes also plan on continuing their work, spreading the child safety message which has become synonymous with their boy’s name, through the foundation they named in his honour.
It’s how they will also get through the After Time.
“We’ll bury ourselves in our work, that is our plan,” Bruce said.
“We already have 60 schools booked in this year, a sort of framework of where we are going to go. We’ll be out in the field, talking child safety, making sure this message continues to get out to these kids.”
They know it is going to be tough. Sometimes knowing can be worse than not knowing. Knowing comes with pictures. With nightmares. Knowing means hope is lost.
But Bruce said the family was prepared, having made a vow to their lost boy 10 years and two months ago.
“We made a promise to Daniel, in his absence in those very early hours and days, that we would ride this out to the end,” Bruce said.
“This, going there, being there in the court room, is part of that promise.”