For the past 18 years, Aengus ‘Gussie’ Shanahan remained a ghostly image on a missing persons poster.
However, speaking at his funeral mass, Saturday, Gussie’s family said he is “no longer frozen in time” from the day he disappeared, aged 20, on February 11, 2000.
Gardai announced October 23 last, that improvements in DNA technology confirmed that fragments of bones discovered on the Shannon Estuary, 17 years previously, on October 28, 2001, were belonging to Gussie.
Following the news Gussie’s father Bob, said the news had struck him and his family “like a thunderbolt”.
At Gussie’s funeral mass today, thousands of mourners packed into Our Lady of Rosary Church on the Ennis Road, where Gussie’s cousin, Fr Aquinas Duffy, said their family had finally found some closure to what remains one of the country’s most high profile missing persons cases.
“He is no longer frozen in time, aged 20, on February 11, 2000,” Fr Duffy said.
“There is a sense, when a person goes missing, for all of their family, that we are frozen in time, caught in that particular time period, unable to move beyond that day. Gussie is truly free.”
Fr Duffy, who set up the missing.ie website following Gussie’s disappearance said: “We’ve been speaking about (Gussie) and making appeals for almost two decades, and yet, here we are this morning, and we come very much in gratitude for having this moment today, where we can lay Gussie to rest.”
“It’s been a long 18 years, searching for answers, making appeals, and desperately trying to get information that would bring the searching to an end. Finally, Aengus can be given a Christian burial with his mother Nancy.”
“So many families are still in that place, and in some of the cases there are people who have the answers that can bring an end to the searching.”
Bunratty Search and Rescue Service, the volunteer unit that discovered Gussie’s partial skeletal remains, had members attend the emotional mass.
Gardai involved in the case, and search and rescue organisations also attended, as did a number of families of other missing people.
Fr Duffy told those still searching for their loved ones to never give up hope.
“The fact that we are here shows that the impossible is truly possible,” he added.
Gussie’s mother Nancy died in 2016, still clinging to news about the youngest of her four children, with whom she always loved to dance a waltz.
Gussie’s brother, Roibeard Shanahan, told mourners his family had “no doubt” his late mother had helped them find Gussie.
“Today, we gather to erase the negativity, sorrow, and sadness, that surrounded (Gussie) for the last 18 years. Rather, we are here to fill it with love, positivity and celebration for his life,” he said.
He described his little brother as “good-natured, friendly, loyal, and hard working...the baby of our family who was adored by all of us.”
Mr Shanahan said Gussie “adored” spending time on their relative's farm in Co Kerry, during their summer holidays.
“Gussie always saw the good in people, and unfortunately for him, this, at times, led him to make poor judgements on people and situations. As my father would say, this at times got him into a few scrapes,” Mr Shanahan said.
Bob Shanahan, who did not speak at the mass, has said separately that he believes Gussie was murdered.
Gardai are conducting a complete review of investigations into Gussie’s disappearance but have stressed they are keeping an open mind about the circumstances of his case.
“One thing we want to come out of today is for people to remember that Aengus was not just a picture of the boy in the missing poster. He had 20 years of much more, which we were delighted as a family to share with him,” Roibeard Shanahan said.
“We miss you brother. Now rest easy, and enjoy the waltz with mam,” he added, as mourners applauded.
Finally, before Gussie’s coffin was taken from the church to his resting place, alongside his beloved mother, a collage of treasured family photographs and homemade videos of Gussie was played out on a projector screen with pop singer Ed Sheeran’s “Photograph” as the soundtrack.
The emotional video tribute ended on Sheeran’s final words: “Wait for me to come home.”