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'I watched her walk out the door, and that was the last time I saw her'

Sandra Collins’ family continue their appeal for anyone with information on her body’s whereabouts to contact gardaí.

15 YEARS AGO last night, the Collins family spent the evening together at home in Crossmolina, Co Mayo.

It was their last time seeing their sister Sandra alive. Sandra disappeared aged 29 on 4 December 2000, and has not been seen since. Her family believe she was killed, and are appealing for anyone with information on where her body is to come forward – anonymously if they wish.

FullSizeRender (10) Source: Patrick Collins

“It was a Sunday night,” her brother Patrick Collins told TheJournal.ie. “And they [Sandra and her aunt, who she lived with and was a carer for] came up to Crossmolina to see us every Sunday night.”

It was their sister’s birthday, and Sandra went out and bought her a birthday card and signed the card in the family home for her.

“She told our mother she would see her next Sunday, and that she hoped that she wasn’t too cross with her that she didn’t have a present,” said Patrick. “She was chatting away. She was in great form, in really good form, she was on about Christmas.”

The last thing Sandra chatted to her family about was getting a mobile phone at Christmas – she was waiting for her Christmas social welfare bonus to be able to afford to buy one.

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She never got the bonus, or the phone. “I don’t know if it would have made a difference to what happened,” said Patrick.

Sandra’s birthday is 14 December, and her mother convinced her to bring some birthday cards back to her aunt’s house with her, said Patrick.

We said ‘oh, happy birthday to you too and we’ll see you next Sunday’, and said goodbye and that we loved each other.

The family always ended those Sunday night visits by telling Sandra they loved her.

“I watched her walk out the door and put my aunt into the car, and this was the last time we saw Sandra,” said Patrick.

Last seen in Killala

FullSizeRender (11)

She went missing the following day – 4 December 2000 – from Killala. She was last seen at 11pm in Killala, having bought chips in the Country Kitchen takeaway. Her fleece was later found on the pier nearby.

Since that day, Sandra’s family have not stopped looking for her.

Killala man Martin Early was acquitted of the murder of Sandra Collins in 2014, due to lack of evidence. The court was told that Sandra was pregnant at the time that she went missing. Early denied murdering Sandra.

Earlier this year, her family erected a plaque at the pier, dedicated to Sandra’s memory.

Usually, the Collins family would mark the day of Sandra’s disappearance by attending mass in Crossmolina, but since their father became ill, they won’t all be able to do that together. They might visit the plaque and leave flowers for Sandra.

‘It doesn’t matter whether they’re gone a day or 100 years’

Patrick Collins spoke at the event in Farmleigh for missing persons this week.

“It was hard because there were so many people in the room,” he said.

I got up to speak and it just brought it all back, the boat we are all in.

It was a very sad and emotional day, he said, though he appreciated the support of Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald and the Garda Commissioner Noirín O’Sullivan.

s4 Source: Patrick Collins

He and the other families at the event all share an experience that they wish they did not share. Though they all have a missing relative, each circumstance is different, each situation unique.

“It makes you feel better, but in another breath it makes you feel ‘oh my God it’s so prevalent’,” said Patrick of being surrounded by people who also have a missing relative.

“Each of us thinks we’re all wrapped up in our own road, then you hear another story that’s as bad or worse than your own.”

It doesn’t matter whether they’re gone a year, a day, an hour or 100 years.

When he reads about another person having gone missing, he thinks: that family might have read about my family when Sandra went missing.

“You never know when it is going to come to your door,” said Patrick. “I can’t believe 15 years on we are here.”

A recent letter from the President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, expressing his support for the family boosted them somewhat. But there is little consolation to be had when they do not know where Sandra’s body is.

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“It is a huge void”

IMG_0202 Source: Patrick Collins

Though today is the day that Sandra went missing 15 years ago, her family think of her multiple times every day. Still, the day she went missing overshadows the other big days in her life – her birthday, her first Communion, her first day at school.

“It doesn’t take a special day to think of her,” said her brother. “Each of us in our own way think of her every night. It is a huge void.”

The search for Sandra’s body has taken on an even bigger meaning to the family since her father became ill. But Patrick emphasises that they are not looking for retribution. They just want Sandra back.

“We don’t want to get anybody into jail or put anybody into prison,” he emphasised.

If we got enough of her body that we knew it was Sandra and the gardaí could say it was Sandra… if it was enough of a piece of her that they knew [it was her]… I’m not asking to put anybody into prison, I’m not trying to ruin anybody’s life.

sandra collins2 Source: Patrick Collins

“I don’t want it to turn into a 16th year,” said Patrick. “We are never going to stop looking for Sandra.” He said that the gardaí have been in constant contact with the family. “They’ve been a huge support for us, they’ve been absolutely brilliant.”

I know that the information is out there. I don’t know why they don’t come forward anonymously.

He encouraged anyone with information to contact the gardaí, or to use the Garda Confidential Line (number below) and send on anonymous information.

“Don’t be afraid,” said Patrick. “They don’t even have to go into the guards.”

But he emphasised that what the family need is someone with information to finally tell them where their sister is buried.

“There are really no excuses as to why they can’t come forward.”

Anyone with information about Sandra Collins can contact the helpline (independent of An Garda Siochána) ‘searching for the missing’, on 085 209 2119; Ballina Gardaí on 096 20560; or Killala Gardaí 096 32111. The Garda Confidential Line can also be called anonymously on 1800 666111.

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Read: ‘The only time I will feel any better is when I have a coffin and a burial’

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Ireland’s missing people: The numbers behind the heartbreak

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