Police in London have confirmed that a body found in Epping Forest on Monday evening was that of Richard Okorogheye, a Black 19-year-old whose family had been searching for him since March 22, according to the BBC.
The teen had sickle cell disease and left his family's home in Ladbroke Grove before never being seen again.
“We thought Richard would be found, or would just come home. But he’s not. My baby will never come home to his mummy again. He was taken away from me too early. The only child I have. It’s devastating and the last thing I thought I’d hear,” his mother Evidence Joel told the Evening Standard.
“Richard is my moon and sun. He is the reason I wake up each morning and breathe. I worship the ground he walks on,” she added.
Police are still investigating Okorogheye's death but have found no evidence yet of any physical injuries or trauma.
Police told the BBC that the last video footage of Okorogheye showed him walking towards Epping Forest after taking a taxi from his home.
Joel told the BBC that because of his illness, he rarely left home and would only leave for blood transfusions, which he got regularly.
But he told her he was going to visit a friend on the night of March 22 yet he did not take his bus pass, wallet or any money with him when he left.
She said he had been "struggling to cope" with his university courses at Oxford Brookes, where he is studying business and IT.
“It’s very difficult. It’s hell. Not knowing where Richard is, with his health condition as well, it’s a complete nightmare,” Joel told The Guardian before Okorogheye's body was found.
“Every day is a nightmare for me now. The days are going by. Time is ticking and I don’t know what to expect. I feel completely helpless. Helpless, and also, sorry to use this word, but I feel useless. Because I want to go out there, to do something to look for him, search for him, anything. But I can’t,” she added.
Joel and the teen's father, Christian Okorogheye, have spent days trying to understand what caused him to leave their house with no money or coat.
“Richard and I have a great relationship. There’s no obvious clue or agitation or anything that could have led to what happened. He was a happy child. I’ve looked back, reflected back, but there’s nothing to obviously show that Richard was unhappy,” Joel said, appealing to his friends online who may know something about what happened.
The nurse lauded her son, explaining that he was well-known in the community.
“Richard is very focused. He’s intelligent. He’s a gentleman. He’s bright. He’s private. He’s very helpful in the community. If he sees you carrying a bag, he will ask to help you. He will hold doors open for you. He’s kind. He’s understanding," she said to The Guardian.
“The whole community, they love him. Sometimes people ask me: ‘Is he your son? Wow. You’ve got a star.’ I am very proud of him. I would look at him every day and I can’t believe, actually, I have raised such a focused and intelligent man,” she added.
After being told it was his body that was found near the pond, she broke down, questioning how something so unexplainable could happen.
“Life is already empty, there’s like a cloud just hovering around, it took the sun away from me. At this moment of time I just want answers as how my son lost his life. I want answers. I desperately need closure,” she said.
She later spoke with Sky News and said she visited the spot where police found his body.
“It was a very uncomfortable place to be. I wouldn’t want to be there. My son that I know cannot walk into that darkness – no torch, no light. An hour and 30 minutes from where he was last seen. He must have guts to do that. He’s only 19. What could push him to go that far if he wasn’t meeting somebody?” she asked.
Police and dogs spent five days searching Epping Forest until his body was found in the pond. His phone had been turned off since March 22.
“I want to embrace him and tell him how much I love him.”
Evidence Joel, the mother of missing student Richard Okorogheye, tells @JackieLongc4 she has been overwhelmed by the support from the public, as she appeals for her son to come home. pic.twitter.com/6vTW7s53rR
— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) April 2, 2021
While Joel now thanks police for their tireless work in searching for Okorogheye, she initially criticized their actions and their response to her pleas.
According to The Guardian, after she filed a missing person's report, she was initially told that her teenage son was an adult who could go where he wanted. It was only one day later that police began to take the case seriously.
“I told a police officer that my son was missing, please help me find him, and she said, ‘If you can’t find your son, how do you expect police officers to find your son for you?’” she told Sky News.
The situation around Okorogheye is taking place amid increased outrage and concern over policing and race relations in the United Kingdom. Police in the country have faced renewed criticism over heavy-handed tactics used to disrupt a protest and for a new bill that will give them increased powers.
An autopsy is still being done to determine the cause of death but police do not believe anyone else was involved in Okorogheye's death, according to The Independent.
"My deepest sympathies go out to Richard's family at this incredibly difficult time. This was not the outcome that any of us had hoped for. I would like to extend my thanks to the many officers, staff and members of the public who have each played a part in the extensive effort to locate Richard," Det Supt Danny Gosling told the BBC.