I’ve been following the disturbing and tragic case of Noah Donohoe since it occurred in June of 2020, although admittedly there hasn’t been much to follow except the enduring mystery of the 14 year old’s last days before the discovery of his body in a storm drain, 6 days after he was last seen.
While the problem of missing children is not new, most are returned safe, and in the cases where they are not, they are at least found and the cause of their deaths understood. The case of Noah Donohoe however stands out for several bizarre details that defy explanation and bring to mind the cases investigated by David Paulides, as detailed in his ‘Missing 411’ book series.
Noah Donohoe was a bright 14 year old boy with a promising future. As a year ten student at the Catholic St. Malachy’s College in Belfast, Northern Ireland, he enjoyed athletics, academics, and music. He was well-liked by classmates, coaches, and teachers. He played the cello, received high marks, swam, and played basketball and rugby.
After his death, his coaches reflected on his innate ability to have fun, exhibit sportsmanship, and laugh on the pitch. And Noah’s teachers remembered him as a “measured, modest” student. During his time at St. Malachy’s, he received many accolades – including a “spirit of the college” award.
Although schools had closed in March 2020 due to the government-announced pandemic, Noah was still actively involved in the Duke of Edinburgh Award Program where young people between 14 and 24 engage in activities that help the community/environment, develop new skills, plan, train for and complete expeditions etc.
And that’s just what Noah was planning to do on his last Sunday evening. At 5:41 p.m., he left his home in the area of Ormeau Road, South Belfast on his mountain bike and began the 6.7-mile journey to Cave Hill Park to meet his Program friends. Noah brought a large khaki backpack containing his laptop and the book12 Rules for Lifeby Jordan B. Peterson to assist the group. He was wearing a black skateboarding helmet, a khaki green North Face jacket, a blue tie-dyed hoodie, grey sweat-shorts, Nike sneakers, socks and underwear.
CCTV video showed Noah leaving his home and cycling toward Belfast City Center. Seven minutes elapsed before he was seen again at 5:49 p.m., as he biked through Victoria Square in the city center. At 5:50 p.m., thirteen minutes before he is last seen alive, he passed the corner of High Street and Royal Avenue in downtown Belfast. In the footage he showed no signs of distress, and was fully clothed.
At 5:53 p.m., Noah passed the art college of Ulster University in central Belfast without his backpack. A few days later, his backpack was found leaning against a college building. CCTV did not capture Noah abandoning the backpack, and it is unclear why he cast it aside.
At 6:00 p.m., a driver witnessed Noah take a small tumble from his bike. She watched him climb back on without issue, and did not stop to check on him. The witness came forward with this information shortly after Noah was reported missing.
At 6:02 p.m., one minute before Noah disappeared, he rode into Northwood Road in the North of the city without his backpack or North Face jacket but otherwise fully clothed. The last live sighting of Noah occurred at 6:03 p.m. as he cycled past 85 Northwood Road, at this point he was naked.
He is then seen on CCTV to go between numbers 89 and 91 Northwood Road which leads to an area of waste ground behind the houses where the storm drain is located.
Noah’s cycling helmet was found by a member of the public between 17 and 23 Northwood Road. Some of the remaining clothes were discovered by a member of the public lying on a wall at 63 Northwood Road.
In the space of one minute, while riding his bike along a very ordinary residential road, for some reason he shed what remained of his clothes.
Northwood road resident Linda Patterson, the last person to see Noah alive, told how she saw the boy riding his bicycle while naked past her home.
“I was sitting in the living room. Quite a few people saw him, but they just saw him from the waist up and didn’t think anything of it.”
Ms Patterson said she and her husband looked out again, but this time only saw the black Apollo mountain bike lying in the street.
“It was so quick. It was just a flash going past. By the time I got out to look he was gone,” she said.
Ms Patterson, who later helped in volunteer searches for the teenager, said he didn’t appear to be in distress, just naked.
She said her husband found the footage on their CCTV camera and gave it to police.
The Northwood road area is located about half way along the route Noah was to take to Cave Hill Park to meet friends. There is no reason why Noah should have entered Northwood Road because it is a dead end street.
At 8:00 p.m. that same evening, Northwood road resident Karen Crooks discovered Noah’s Apollo mountain bike in her front yard. She assumed it belonged to neighborhood boys and left it until the next evening. When Karen heard of Noah’s disappearance, she called the police, who later confirmed the bike as Noah’s.
Three days after Noah’s disappearance, Daryl Paul – a career criminal with over 194 arrests – attempted to pawn Noah’s backpack, laptop, and books. The pawnshop declined the purchase and phoned the police. Paul claims to have found Noah’s backpack propped against a building on the Ulster University campus. Although CCTV footage later confirmed Paul’s claims, he was arrested and sentenced to 3 months in prison for theft and attempt to sell stolen goods.
Six days after the final sighting of him at the end of the cul-de-sac of Northwood road, Noah’s naked body was found almost 1km into a cavernous storm drain located directly behind the houses. In an attempt to explain how and why Noah died, police said that he may have fallen from his bicycle and sustained an injury, causing him to remove his clothing and enter the drain. This was despite the fact that a post-mortem examination found no evidence of a head (or any other) injury and instead concluded that Noah had died by drowning.
On June 18th, three days before Noah disappeared and presumably entered the storm drain, an inspection was carried out on the drain and it was found to be unlocked. On the 24th June, three days after Noah disappeared, council workers padlocked the drain, presumably while Noah was inside.
Police superintendent Muir Clark said the case is one of his most unusual in his thirty years of service. With over 22 pieces of CCTV footage and less than ten minutes of Noah’s last forty minutes unaccounted for, what led to Noah’s death remains a mystery. Despite claims of a possible attack by criminal types as Noah traveled along his route, no evidence has come to light to corroborate these claims and the case is being treated as a matter for the coroner rather than a criminal inquiry.
Bizarrely, in March this year, it was revealed that on the day Noah went missing, he received an Instagram message purporting to come from Jordan Peterson. The content of the message was not revealed. Police contacted Peterson and a representative said there had been no contact between the author and Noah. “There has been no communication between Noah and Jordan. There are many impersonator accounts. It’s likely that the messages have come from elsewhere,” a spokesman told the Sunday Independent. “We have fully co-operated with police,” he added, offering his “sincere condolences” to Noah’s mother, Fiona.
At the end of June this year, an article in the Sunday World newspaper claimed that a man has alleged that while he was in prison earlier this year, his cell-mate confessed to attacking and killing Noah and then disposing of his body. This claim, however, does not stand up to the CCTV evidence which shows that Noah was alone when he entered the area of the storm-drain where he was eventually found.
A full inquest into Noah’s death is scheduled to begin in January 2022.