Teams tracing the body of a man believed to have been shot and buried 30 years ago by the IRA appeared today to have found him only days after giving up the search.
Relatives of 24-year-old Gerry Evans now face an agonising wait for tests to confirm the identity of human remains found in bogland in Co Louth close to the Border.
The missing man, last seen in 1979 hitch-hiking outside Castleblaney in Co Monaghan, is one of 16 people known as the Disappeared who were killed and secretly buried by republican paramilitaries during the Troubles. So far the remains of seven victims have been recovered.
Just over two weeks ago the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains (ICLVR) said its 16-month dig in the Carrickrobin area in search of Gerry Evans’ remains had ended without success.
But after today’s shock announcement, the missing man’s brother Noel Evans said his family hoped their long wait would soon be at an end.
“We have just heard the news this morning. Our hope is that this will be Gerry and it will bring an end to 31 years of searching,” he said.
“We are waiting on further information and are unable to make further comment at this time...We wait in hope.”
The family lived in Crossmaglen, south Armagh, just north of the Border, close to another Disappeared victim, Charlie Armstrong.
The remains of Mr Armstrong, who went missing in 1981, were recently buried after being discovered in bogland in Co Monaghan last July.
After Mr Armstrong’s funeral, the Evans family spoke of their deep regret that their relative could not be located.
But in a surprise development, the team searching for their loved one today said it had now found human remains.
The commission added: “The recovery is ongoing and the formal identification process will take some time.
“The family of Mr Evans, An Garda Siochana and the State Pathologist’s Office have been informed.”
In 1999 the IRA admitted it had killed and secretly buried nine of the 16 Disappeared, while the INLA has been linked to one of the deaths.
The plight of the families of the Disappeared became a major political issue in the 1990s.
In the wake of the ceasefires called by the main paramilitary groups, relatives began to re-tell their harrowing stories.
Public opinion swung behind their demands for the right to give their missing loved ones a decent burial.
The Irish and British governments formed the ICLVR in 1999.
Former republican paramilitaries were urged to give the commission any information which might help locate the remains of the victims, but the passage of time presented the search teams with a mammoth task.
The site of the dig for Mr Evans was said to have spread across a large area of bogland and covered the distance of several football pitches by the time the search drew to a close.
The plight of the Disappeared was debated last week in the Northern Ireland Assembly where there were cross-party calls for anyone with information that might help find the remaining victims to contact the commission.
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams tonight said: “It is welcome news that remains have been found at the site in Co Louth where the Commission has been searching for Gerry Evans.
“My thoughts are with the Evans family at this difficult time and as they await confirmation. I would appeal for anyone with any information that might help other families locate remains and find closure to bring that information forward.”
Full list of the disappeared:
Huge efforts have been made to locate the 15 men and one woman murdered and secretly buried by republican paramilitaries during the Troubles, but most have yet to be found.
While checks begin on the remains found by officials searching for missing man Gerry Evans, the other Disappeared are:
:: Joseph Lynskey, whose name was added to the list of the Disappeared in the last year when the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains (ICLVR) confirmed his death and disappearance fell within its remit. He was a former monk from Belfast who was said to have later joined the IRA, but is believed to have been killed and secretly buried by the group in the summer of 1972. His remains have never been found.
:: Seamus Wright, who disappeared in October 1972 and is thought to have been killed by fellow IRA members who accused him of being a security force agent. His remains have never been found.
:: Kevin McKee, who was also an IRA member, believed to have been interrogated and murdered by the group in October 1972 after being accused of being a security force agent. His remains have never been found.
:: Jean McConville, who was a widowed mother of 10 who was kidnapped and murdered by the IRA in December 1972. After long-running searches, the 37-year-old’s remains were found on a beach in Co Louth in 2003.
:: Peter Wilson, who disappeared in August 1973. The 21-year-old, who had learning difficulties, was last seen in the Falls Park area of west Belfast. His remains have never been found.
:: Eamon Molloy, who was kidnapped in west Belfast in 1975. It was claimed he was an IRA member who was killed by the organisation after being accused of being an informant. His body was found in a coffin left in a Co Louth cemetery in 1999 after information was passed to the commission.
:: Columba McVeigh, who was a 17-year-old from Donaghmore in Co Tyrone. He was abducted and murdered by the IRA in October 1975. Despite extensive searches in Co Monaghan, his remains have yet to be found. His mother had campaigned tirelessly on her son’s case prior to her death in 2007.
:: Robert Nairac, who was abducted in May 1977 outside a pub in South Armagh where minutes before the undercover soldier was said to have been singing rebel songs. He was taken across the border to Co Louth and shot dead by the IRA. His remains have never been located.
:: Brendan Megraw, who disappeared in April 1978 and was killed by the IRA who accused him of being an agent. His remains have never been found.
:: John McClory and Brian McKinney, who were friends in Belfast who disappeared in May 1978 after falling foul of the IRA. Their bodies were recovered by the commission in 1999 in a bog in Co Monaghan.
:: Danny McIlhone, from West Belfast, who was killed by the IRA in 1981 as they supposedly questioned him about missing weapons. After two unsuccessful searches, his remains were recovered in the Wicklow mountains in 2008.
:: Charlie Armstrong, who disappeared in August 1981 as he travelled to Mass in south Armagh. The 57-year-old’s remains were found this July in Co Monaghan.
:: Eugene Simons, who disappeared from his home in Castlewellan, Co Down, in January 1981. His body was found in a bog in Dundalk, Co Louth, three years later.
:: Seamus Ruddy, who disappeared in 1985. He was a 32-year-old from Newry in Co Down who was teaching in Paris when it is believed he was kidnapped and killed by the INLA. His remains have never been found.