IT was the news that everyone desperately didn’t want to hear.
Just over 72 hours after teenager Ross Haughey waved goodbye to his family as he went out for a walk in the New Forest, the call came in to confirm a body had been found just a few miles from his family home.
Although there has not been any formal identification yet, the 17-year-old’s deeply worried parents Brian and Penny, and his elder brother Max, were told of the development by police officers yesterday afternoon and have braced themselves for the worst.
At 4pm in the bitterly cold wind in nearby Abbotswell car park, which had become the base for a three-day manhunt to find Ross, his friends and teachers who had gathered to help search the area heard the news.
Hopes of a happy ending were crushed and replaced with utter disbelief by the students who have spent the past three days doing all they can via a Twitter and Facebook campaign that has reached millions, to find Ross and bring him home. The confirmation of the discovery came just an hour after the county’s distinctive yellow-painted air ambulance had flown into view in the distance before slowly descending behind trees in Linwood.
Only six hours earlier, as search and rescue volunteers assembled with specialist police teams to begin scouring the area once again, Mr Haughey and son Max had themselves visited officers leading the giant manhunt.
Carrying a map to show the routes Ross is so familiar with, from countless walks and cross-country runs, they spent around half an hour talking with the police search adviser PC Mike Spencer, who was co-ordinating people on the ground.
Afterwards Mr Haughey spoke exclusively to the Daily Echo from his home just a few hundred yards away, and told how Ross had left for his walk happily, telling his parents he’d be fine.
He said: “It was about 1.30pm as I was listening to Saints on the radio and Penny was out the back. I popped into the kitchen and Ross told me he was off out for a walk.
“He told me ‘I’ve got my coat and I’ve got something to eat, I’ll be fine, I’ll be fine’.
But the couple became increasingly worried as darkness fell and Ross, a strong runner who was very fit, had failed to return home and raised the alarm with police.
His older brother Max, who is studying at Oxford University, was naturally concerned and returned home to be with his family.
Throughout Monday and Tuesday, Mr and Mrs Haughey have themselves been out in parts of the New Forest where they know Ross liked to go – searching in trees, pipes and streams looking for their son as well as delivering his picture to the Royal Oak pub in Fritham to help spread the word among its customers.
Yesterday Max and his mother were back out looking once again, feeling that they had to do something to try and find him.
Talking about his son, Mr Haughey said: “Ross was a very keen runner and liked to keep fit, he even pestered us to have his own gym in the garage and we eventually succumbed.
He ran for Hampshire Schools and also competed in many 10k races – sometimes I joined him – and he had astonishing results.
“That was until a couple of months ago when he lost a lot of interest and his studies took over. He was spending a lot of time focussed on studying and preparation for his exams.
“Ross is a home-loving boy, he likes his home comforts, to be here watching his programmes, his science fiction DVDs and listening to music. He’d much rather be here than go on holiday sometimes.
“Although he didn’t have too many friends living around here now he is older, he had many good friends at Burgate who he spoke of very fondly.”
One thing that has not escaped Ross’s parents’ attention is the “unbelievable” efforts emergency search teams have gone to to try and find their son.
Paying tribute to them, Mr Haughey said: “It has been completely unexpected and seems to have been escalating all the time. We have been absolutely overwhelmed by the response and are just so humbled and very grateful that so many people have turned out to help look for Ross.”
Hampshire police are today expected to confirm the identity of the body before a postmortem examination is carried out to determine the cause of death.