Everyone did their best yesterday to keep it as normal as possible for missing Nicola Bulley’s young daughters. Friends gathered and took the nine-year-old and six-year-old to their usual Saturday morning clubs after a sleepover.
‘It’s to try and maintain a sense of routine,’ says a friend, whose children attend the same school in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire. “To distract their minds…” Her words trail off. Thinking, even fleetingly, about the emotional state of the girls is impossible.
At noon, the girls are taken back to their father, Paul Ansell, by the mother of school friends. The 44-year-old gets out of his car and the girls run over to him, wrapping their arms around his neck.
Sleepovers, sports, hanging out with Dad.
Trying to keep things normal. Any parent would do the same.
Nicola Bulley, 45, disappeared after dropping her two daughters off at school on January 27
Meanwhile, divers, dogs and drones scour the area around the River Wyre. A police helicopter hovers low overhead with a clatter reminiscent of a war movie soundtrack.
And how do you answer the children’s all too easily imagined questions? All the family can do, friends say, is to somehow mask their own pain and stay strong for them. In this they succeed, to their great credit.
Giving up hope is not an option for Mr. Ansell, Nicola’s parents, the rest of her family and her army of friends.
The police may be pessimistic, but this unstoppable gang is not. For loved ones in such a situation, it is natural to grab the tiniest glimmer of hope, no matter how irrational it may seem at times.
“We’re not giving up,” Nancy Claeson, secretary of the village tennis club, says as she pins a “Missing” poster to a road sign. ‘We organize volunteers into teams and divide the 12-mile stretch from the Wyre down to the Irish Sea into ten sections.’
St Michael’s – population just over 600 – seems full of feisty, formidable women like Nancy.
Today, she fears people will see her poster imploring motorists to come forward with dashcam footage that could help solve the “ten-minute mystery.” So far, cameras have been unable to track Nicola’s movements on the day she disappeared, January 27, between 9:20 AM and 9:30 AM.
Even at night, Joanna Ward, 57, uses her iPhone flashlight in hopes of finding something the police may have missed. “We’re doing our best, but it’s so dark,” she says.
Police officers searched near the River Wyre in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire, today
Friends have been trying to keep things as normal as possible for Nicola Bulley’s missing young daughters
People from surrounding villages – Great Eccleston, Crossmoor, Inskip – and from further afield – Kendal, Manchester, Preston and Blackpool – turn up to help search for clues, many with dogs.
Margaret Walton, from Pooley Bridge in Cumbria, is armed with a stick and uses it to point to a discarded handkerchief close to the riverbank. ‘Who knows? It could be a clue.’
Dog walkers express concerns about the riverbank. “The bank has become more dangerous in recent months, steeper,” says a woman walking with a lurcher. “The river comes out of the Pennines and changes shape.”
She points to a transfer. ‘Look, it’s too close to the water’s edge. She (Nicola) may have tried to scramble over it and then fell backwards and fell into the water.”
Someone notes that this isn’t the first time tragedy has struck St. Michael’s. He is referring to an explosion in an underground water pumping station in 1984 that killed a number of villagers.
“They called St. Michael’s the village of tears at the time because we all knew someone who was affected by it,” he says. “If only there was a happy ending this time – for the sake of those two girls and their families.”