If Daniel were alive today, he would be turning 24 this month. He most likely would be at university, or in the process of graduating, finding a job and moving out of the family home. He would have friends, possibly be in a relationship; he might have plans for an overseas trip and he would be excited for his upcoming birthday.
Instead, he was remembered by thousands dressed in red as his parents, friends and family said goodbye.
It was in 2003 that the 13-year-old was abducted from the Sunshine Coast. He was last seen at an unofficial bus stop under the Kiel Mountain Road overpass, 2km north of The Big Pineapple. Daniel had planned to catch the 1:35 PM bus to the Sunshine Plaza Shopping Centre for a haircut and to buy Christmas presents for his family.
But on Christmas Day, there were no presents under the tree from Daniel and the presents he was to receive remained unwrapped.
His parents placed the still wrapped gifts on his white coffin in a stark reminder of the many Christmas’s and birthdays the Morcombe family never celebrated with Daniel.
“Daniel was my riding buddy. We would encourage each other to go that bit harder, higher and faster. He was tough – I recall him taking a fall one afternoon trying to attempt a big jump on his new motocross bike. Over the handlebars he went, smack into the ground with the bike just missing him. He refused to show the pain.
“That was what made him special,” remembered Dean.
Bruce encouraged those gathered to celebrate Daniel’s life, to embrace his return to family and reflect on what might have been if Daniel had made it to the Sunshine Plaza Shopping Centre on December 7, nine years ago.
“He may no longer be with us but Daniel’s legacy lives on. The Daniel Morcombe Foundation is committed to doing all we can to ensure this never happens again by educating children on ways to keep safe and supporting young victims of crime,” Bruce said.
It is the Daniel Morcombe Foundation that stands as a testimony to Daniel’s parents strength and endurance, qualities Daniel himself possessed.
The foundation aims to protect other children from the type of harm and violence that shattered not only Daniel’s life, but his entire family’s. The foundation is active in implementing harm prevention initiatives, and campaigned for child safety to be introduced into education. In partnership with the Queensland Department of Education, Training and Employment, the foundation developed the Daniel Morcombe Child Safety Curriculum for Queensland students. It aims to teach children about personal safety and awareness, including cyber-safety and phone safety, by focusing on three messages: Recognise, React and Report.
It is this foundation that will remain as a tribute to Daniel and his family even when his murderer is forgotten.
It was in August last year that Daniel’s remains were found. That same month, a man was taken into custody and charged with Morcombe’s murder and other offences including child stealing, deprivation of liberty, indecent treatment of a child under 16 and interfering with a corpse.
The investigation continues and while Daniel has finally been laid to rest, for his family, the torment will continue.
This is so much more closure than many other families will ever find. In Australia, a person goes missing every 15 minutes. Some find their way home to families and others, like Daniel Morcombe and Jill Meagher, find their way home in coffins. And some, like Madeleine McCann, their story remains a mystery.
The Morcombe’s story is a tragic one. It reminds us that anyone can be a missing person, but it also demonstrates that through support and vigilance, sometimes answers can be found, a beacon of hope for those left behind.
To donate to the Daniel Morcombe Foundation, visit the website here. For details on how to register a missing person, or where you can go if you think you can help with a missing persons investigation, visit the Australian Federal Police’s Missing Persons page.