For the Caseys of Ennis, Co. Clare, their son Damien, missing since September 2003, has been spotted and identified in New Haven, Conn., but he refuses to acknowledge his family or to have anything to do with them.
An ocean separates the two young men, but their families are united in concern and worry.
“Frustrating,” is how Matt’s mother, Terri Mullaney, calls the experience in recent months.
When people go willfully missing as adults, as seems to be the case with Matthew Mullaney and Damien Casey, there is very little that either families or authorities can do to help. As days and weeks speed by, families like the Mullaneys have to learn to soak up the stress and worry.
“Our fear is always that we’re not hearing about all sightings reported,” Terri Mullaney said. “We’ve experienced information falling through the cracks before.”
The Mullaneys, who live in Scituate, Mass., went to Ireland a few weeks ago, encouraged by several reported sightings of Matt.
“There was a potential sighting in Maynooth at a pub there,” Mullaney said. “A woman bartender thought she saw Matt talking with two women at the bar. We tried to talk with her and get additional info to her, but the Garda say she can’t be absolutely positive that it was Matthew.”
In Ireland they also met with police officers that have kept an eye on the case.
“We had word from a Dutch police officer, Carlo Schippers, who has been a wonderful support to us throughout our search,” Mullaney added.
In New Haven, at the Anna Liffey bar where, after a photograph of Damien Casey was published in the Irish Echo in December, staff recognized the young man as one of their occasional customers, a bartender said that Casey was still resident in town and had resisted family attempts to reason with him.
Casey left home in September 2003 and was traced to New York City, then he turned up living on the street in New Haven. He had been despondent at not being accepted by one of the top U.S. law schools and had discussed moving to America with his father. Then one morning, Damien was gone.
While public officials can offer some help and lots of sympathy, an Irish government representative in the U.S. said that once a person is an adult, and has made the decision to not contact his or her family, there is little that anyone can do.
“It’s a difficult question to answer,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “An adult has the right to do whatever they want so long as they do not break the law.”
A consulate or embassy could withhold renewing or issuing a passport, the official added, if a family requested this and there was additional documentation such as a doctor’s letter to reinforce the case.
Meanwhile, the Mullaney family continue to puzzle over matt’s disappearance.
“We’ve had so many conversations ourselves and with professionals about what could possibly be happening with Matt,” Terri Mullaney said. “We feel in our hearts that Matt may have made his way to Amsterdam somehow that weekend expecting to get back to school, but two days became two weeks and time got away from him.
“We think he probably feels disappointed, embarrassed that this happened and doesn’t know quite how to reenter. He knows how much he is loved. Our hope is that one day he’ll remember that and contact us. Or we’ll find him and get to remind him ourselves.”