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Noah Donohoe. Photo: Fiona Donohoe.

He Was Seen Cycling Naked Through A Housing Estate – And Then He Vanished

Noah Donohoe, 14, was found dead in a Belfast storm drain days after disappearing, leaving a mystery involving culture warrior Jordan Peterson, a stolen rucksack, heroin addiction and racism.

BELFAST – One early summer evening on the 21st June 2020, after three months of intense COVID lockdown, 14-year-old Noah Donohoe left home on his black mountain bike, carrying a rucksack, his laptop and some books. He’d planned to make the short journey across the city to meet friends to work on a school project. But then things went strange.

CCTV footage shows that around half-way into his journey his rucksack is no longer on his back. Then Noah veers off-route. He is then witnessed falling off his bike and seen cycling, naked, in a housing estate, miles away from his intended destination. He drops his bike, walks down the side of a house, and vanishes. From leaving home to disappearing, the total time frame was 18 minutes. 


After a six-day police search in undergrowth in parks, residential areas and deep into pitch-black underground drains, his mother Fiona was told that her son’s body had been found deep into a storm drain system around 1km from where his bike was found.

Nearly 2 years later, with an inquest yet to be held, Noah’s death remains shrouded in mystery, speculation and anger. A post mortem found he had died from drowning, yet the tragedy has “raised more questions than answers'' according to the Donohoe family. They continue to dispute official versions from the police and the coroner about what happened to Noah that evening in June 2020. 

The case has sparked accusations of police corruption and sectarian conflict, been taken up by a host of amateur online crime sleuths, and has involved everyone from one of Belfast’s most prolific career criminals to controversial Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson. Superintendent Muir Clark, of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), said: “In my 30 years in the police, this is one of the most unusual missing persons enquiries that I have dealt with.” 

Noah lived with Fiona, a healthcare assistant, in South Belfast’s university district, a diverse community of students and immigrants with a high level of social housing. Noah’s father Emmanuel, who is originally from Senegal, moved to America after Noah was born, and the pair occasionally spoke on Skype. 


To his family and teachers, Noah was a very academic boy who wanted to study medicine. He excelled at science, had won awards for maths, was a proficient cellist and played basketball for his school team. Paul McBride, principal of Noah’s school St Malachy’s College, called Noah the “perfect gentleman” with “the heart of a lion”.

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Noah was a keen basketball player. Photo: PeacePlayers Northern Ireland.

His disappearance and death, his teachers, the police, and his mother all said, came totally out of the blue. According to Fiona, Noah didn’t seem to be having any problems. Noah’s best friend, who had hung out with him the day before his disappearance, had not noticed anything strange about his friend’s behaviour. 

This is what we do know. At 5.45PM, Noah left his house. He was planning to meet friends at the Cavehill Country Park, a couple of miles from his school, to work on a project for the Duke of Edinburgh Award, a scheme that hundreds of thousands of young people take part in across the UK every year. This was a journey he made frequently.

At 5.50PM, Noah was captured on CCTV cycling along Royal Avenue through the busy shopping district of Belfast city centre. This is where the bizarre chain of events begins. By the time he got to the bottom of Royal Avenue, his rucksack had gone. Despite it being the city’s busiest street, no witnesses or CCTV records why or how Noah became separated from his bag.


At 6PM Noah was seen falling off his bike by a driver at a busy junction. The driver got out to help, but Noah got back onto his bike and cycled off.

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Noah captured on CCTV on York Road without his rucksack and minutes before he disappeared. Photo: BBC.

Around 400m after falling off his bike, Noah reappears on CCTV cycling down York Road. Within two minutes of this image being captured, by the time he reaches a housing estate in Northwood Road in north Belfast, an area of the city he didn’t know and around three miles away from his intended destination, inexplicably, his clothes and helmet had vanished.

The moment he loses them are not caught on CCTV, nor by any witnesses. His bizarre nakedness is first witnessed by two residents who see him cycling, wearing no clothes, into a cul-de-sac in the housing estate.

Noah’s last known movements – captured by CCTV walking naked down the side of a house towards a gate that led to a park and a storm drain – are recorded at 6.03PM. Police initially said these last CCTV images were captured at 6.11PM, but then revised the time to 8 minutes earlier.

Noah’s mother reported him missing to the police around 9.30PM that evening. She knew something was wrong because Noah was due to call her at 6.30PM when he was meant to arrive at the park. Around 24 hours after Noah was last sighted, Karen Crooks, who lives in the cul-de-sac where Noah was seen walking naked, reported to the police that Noah’s mountain bike was lying at the bottom of her driveway. Police focused on the area behind her house, specifically a nearby storm drain. 

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A person holds a missing poster of Noah during the search in June 2020. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Images via Getty Images.

Specialist search-and-rescue teams were brought in to cover the Northwood Road and surrounding area, where his helmet, hoodie and shoes had been scattered and found by residents. His underwear, T-shirt and shorts have never been recovered. During the search his mobile phone was retrieved from a park that he passed on his way to Northwood Road. 

3 days into the search, Superintendent Muir Clark held a press conference and said he believed Noah had travelled to north Belfast, fallen from his bike and he had suffered a head injury which may have led to him being disorientated and removing his clothes. This original police theory would later form the basis of Fiona and her supporter’s claims of a police cover-up. 

On the same day that the press conference was held, police were contacted by the manager of a Cash Converter pawn shop in Belfast city centre. A convicted career criminal and long-term heroin user called Daryl Paul had attempted to sell Noah’s laptop. Police received an anonymous tip-off that Paul had tried to sell the laptop at a party the previous night. He was arrested at his flat where Noah’s backpack and books were also seized.

After questioning, Paul, who had almost 200 previous convictions for offences including theft and armed robbery, took police to his friend Maria Nolan’s flat at Queens Quarter housing association in University Street, a community homeless shelter just across the road from the Donohoe home – where they retrieved Noah’s laptop. When questioned, Paul claimed he had found Noah’s rucksack against a wall at the University of Ulster building, at the bottom of Royal Avenue – where Noah is thought to have become separated from his bag.


By day 4 the city-wide search for Noah had expanded. Thousands of public volunteers and specialist police rescue teams covered terrain over and underground in the Northwood and Skegoneil areas of north Belfast. With no clear answers, unverified theories spread on social media about what may have happened to Noah, with rumours of potential sectarian and hate crime motives. 

The rumours and suspicion, fuelled by allegations of police incompetence and bizarre circumstances, did not stop, they spiralled.

Noah was a Catholic, mixed-race boy cycling in a predominantly Loyalist, Protestant, white area of a city that is still recovering from 30 years of a deadly sectarian war known as the Troubles. Only a few weeks before Noah went missing, 15-year old Flynn Maguire, also a pupil at St Malachy’s College, was attacked while cycling by a mob of teenagers in the same area. Flynn’s mother claimed it was a religiously motivated attack. 

The discovery of Noah’s laptop at a homeless shelter opposite his family home fuelled public doubt about the police’s version of events, that Noah had simply fallen, sustained a head injury and then gone missing. Yet police maintained that Paul, later handed a 3-month prison sentence for stealing the rucksack, while being an opportunist thief, could not be connected with Noah’s disappearance, because he was caught on CCTV in another part of the city at the time he went missing.


As the hunt for Noah continued, rumours circulated on social media that the schoolboy had been murdered and buried. Jamie Shaw, a 26-year-old from North Belfast, posted a 9-second video on Snapchat. Staring into the camera he said that he had been burying bodies including Noah’s. He was arrested and charged with improper use of an electronic communications network.

6 days after the disappearance, police announced they had found Noah’s body. At a press conference Superintendent Muir Clark said he didn’t believe Noah had been murdered. “It is disappointing that I again need to comment about people circulating a number of rumours about Noah’s disappearance, which are completely without foundation. An investigation into the circumstances of Noah’s disappearance is still continuing, but there is no evidence to suggest foul play.” 

But the rumours and suspicion, fuelled by allegations of police incompetence and bizarre circumstances, did not stop, they spiralled. How did Noah end up entering a storm drain, in Seaview Park behind Northwood Road, that he had no idea existed? How could his body end up travelling 1,000 metres through a narrow storm drain system which ran under the M2 motorway, and with very little signs of water damage? Was it mere coincidence that Noah’s bag was found at an apartment just minutes from his home? And who were the two mystery men seen hanging around the housing estate around the time Noah disappeared? 


The storm drain in Seaview Park behind Northwood Road where police say Noah entered the system. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Images via Getty Images.

Even some residents of Northwood Road said they were not aware a storm drain was behind their homes. So if the residents didn't know the drain was there, how did Noah? It was unfortunate that on the day Noah went missing the padlock on the storm drain was not secured because a maintenance worker had forgotten to lock it after an inspection the week before.

Then there was the strange Jordan Peterson connection. After analysing Noah’s online activity, police discovered that on the day he went missing he was messaging an Instagram account that Noah appeared to believe was run by the controversial Canadian psychologist. Noah was clearly interested in the culture warrior and self-help guru. His international bestselling book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote For Chaos, was in Noah’s rucksack the day he went missing. 

In 12 Rules for Life, Peterson, a controversial figure who rails against identity politics and political correctness, outlined his mantra for young men to be strong, disciplined and take responsibility for their own lives. Peterson was contacted by the PSNI in connection with the Instagram account and an exchange of emails involving Noah. But Peterson told the police the Instagram account was fake, with no involvement of him or his team. The messages Noah sent to the account haven’t been released, but that didn’t stop people speculating in online forums about why Noah was interested in Peterson, what impact his book may have had on him, and even how the biblical figure Noah from the Old Testament figured in Peterson’s YouTube lectures. 


Online “sleuths” suggested that Noah, by entering the storm drain, may have been involved in some kind of group initiation ceremony that went wrong, or had suffered from psychosis due to drugs. Others created their own graphics and timelines to analyse Noah’s journey on the day he went missing and more broadly raise awareness of Noah’s case. 


A photo of Noah with his mother Fiona as his funeral cortege arrived at Saint Patrick's Church in Belfast on July 1, 2020 Photo: Niall Carson/PA Images via Getty Images)

In August 2020, coroner Joe McCrisken told a preliminary inquest there was “no evidence” to suggest that any other person was involved in Noah’s death and that it was time for the “baseless and inaccurate rumours” about what happened to Noah to stop. "I understand the concern of the communities in the light of Noah's disappearance and death, and the desire for further information. I am asking that speculation cease from today," he said.

McCrisken explained that it appeared likely that Noah entered the storm drain near Northwood Road by lifting the unsecured metal drain cover. “At present there is no evidence linking Noah’s death to the death of any other individual or with an attack on any other individual or individuals in that area or in close proximity to Northwood Road,” he said. 

Meanwhile, on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and online news comment feeds, people explained what they believed had really happened. Some people simply did not believe the coroner or police’s version of events. They were convinced Noah had been attacked for the colour of his skin, because he was a child, or because he was from the Catholic part of town. Perhaps, they said, Noah’s attacker was a police informant and that if this came to light, there would be riots. The people of Belfast wanted answers, and privately, so did Fiona Donohoe. 

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A mural on the Lower Falls Road in Belfast, one of several murals in the city depicting the Donohoe's fight for more information about Noah's death. Photo: Peter Curran.

Ever since Noah went missing, Fiona, with her sister Niamh, has become increasingly critical of the police’s investigation into his death and in raising questions about their version of events.

The sisters created a Facebook community, the My Noah Donohoe campaign, whose 117,000 supporters call themselves “Noah’s Army”. Through car processions, flags and banners, and painting murals across the city, they have been keeping Noah’s death in the public eye. 

Speaking via Zoom with her sister, Fiona Donohoe told VICE World News she does not believe the notion pushed by the authorities that Noah died through misadventure or suicide. A lot of their scepticism revolved around the storm drain. 

“If they [the police] tell me how Noah knew that storm drain existed, that will at least make sense to me,” said Fiona. 

Neither she nor Niamh believe that Noah voluntarily got into the storm drain. “The police are saying that Noah climbed into that storm drain, said Niamh. “Nobody has seen him climb into the storm drain and I will never believe that Noah climbed into it. 

“We need a new investigation. It's so obvious to us how badly that investigation was done. We are not accepting their narrative at all, there is not one word I accept. I’m absolutely disgusted. It's insulting to Noah. It’s disrespectful.”


“They say that he was in the storm drain for six days. Bearing in mind [to travel from where his body entered the storm drain to where it was found] he would've had to have climbed 950 metres through the tunnel complex, which we have heard on good authority that this is humanly impossible because of the obstructions and the chambers.”

Neither the police nor coroner has speculated openly about whether Noah’s body travelled through the storm drain complex while he was conscious or unconscious, although Supt Clark described the underground system as an “extremely challenging”, pitch-black environment when search teams discovered Noah’s body.   

Fiona and Niamh said that according to their information, Noah’s body did not show signs of spending six days in an underground water system. “The tide comes twice a day in those tunnels, so he would’ve been submerged twice a day. But the only water damage to Noah’s body was his hands and feet. And there’s sewage in that tunnel, so sewage and bacteria would have done horrendous damage. Also, there was no rodent damage, no insect damage.” The state of Noah’s body has yet to be confirmed by the coroner. 


Fiona Donohoe (centre), Noah's mother, and his aunt Niamh (left) follow his coffin as it is carried into Saint Patrick's Church in Belfast. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Images via Getty Images.

Fiona told VICE World News there are other aspects of the investigation she is unhappy with. Donohoe alleges the police have not investigated rumours that four witnesses heard screaming that night near where Noah was last seen, nor did they take forensics at the property where Noah’s bag was found. “They’re not looking at anything we [Fiona’s legal team] give them. We’ve brought them information about possible suspects.” 


Fiona also believes that Noah could have been attacked because he was from a Catholic area or because of the colour of his skin. She said the area around where he was last seen has a history of problems with racist behaviour.   

“We need a new investigation. It's so obvious to us how badly that investigation was done. We are not accepting their narrative at all, there is not one word I accept. I’m absolutely disgusted. It's insulting to Noah. It’s disrespectful.” 

Fiona and Niamh have contemplated the possibility of suicide, but they believe they have no reason to consider this as an option. “We are realists, we are not deluded,” said Niamh. “It's not that something happened and that we don't want to accept it. We all say that if Noah had taken his own life, we would accept it and we would grieve, we would. But that's not what happened. I would never allow my sister to be dragged through this publicly. Fundamentally, we do want justice for Noah. Whoever harmed him and whoever was involved need to be brought to justice and I think it's just a matter of time.”

There were undoubtedly examples of police incompetence during the search. The PSNI released a statement saying they had conducted a missing persons leaflet drop whilst Noah was missing, however this didn’t happen due to what police say was a “miscommunication”. According to those who helped in the search, the area Noah was last seen wasn’t cordoned off or sealed, and oddly, no overtime was offered to police during the first day of the search, the most crucial period in any missing persons search.

In March last year Fiona Donohoe demanded the police look into rumours, in no way substantiated, that Noah was attacked by a heroin needle wielding drug user as he cycled along Royal Avenue before his rucksack vanished. 

“We have reason to believe that there is a particular and specific knowledge of this assault in the homeless community and with those struggling with addiction issues both in the city centre and also from people who were residents at Queens Quarter housing association in University Street, specifically people resident there in June," said Donohoe’s solicitor last March. Queen’s Quarter is where laptop thief Daryl Paul’s friend Maria Nolan, who also has problems with heroin addiction, lived and where Noah’s laptop was found.

In June last year a tabloid newspaper reported that a prisoner had confessed to his cellmate to drowning Noah and received help from Loyalist paramilitaries to dispose of the body. Donohoe urged the police to look into the cell confession. But after investigating the needle attack and the jail confession, PSNI said there were no grounds for making any arrests. 

The mystery was further inflamed when in December last year it was revealed the police were seeking a Public Interest Immunity (PII) certificate, in order to prevent specific internal police information about the case being released during the full inquest into Noah’s death in November. While Donohoe alleges that the PII is being used to potentially protect police informants, police lawyers said that it is common for police to apply for PIIs to protect police methodology. An online petition calling on the police to release the secret files has so far gathered 300,000 signatures. 

Belfast is a city well used to people going missing, distrust between the police and the public, a culture of vigilantism and of brutal killings. The mystery of a teenager disappearing in broad daylight in an area related to Loyalist death gangs in the Troubles has brought to the surface fears that have not fully been resolved. Despite no evidence of paramilitary involvement in Noah’s case, it is clear there is still a lack of trust in the police, and the ‘other’ community. 

Mystery and uncertainty have been fuelled not only by old sectarian hostilities, online conspiracies, tabloid newspapers and amateur sleuths, but also by long held prejudices against people addicted to drugs and a historical distrust of the police in Northern Ireland. 

The evidence so far points to Noah tragically dying without foul play. Yet a series of bizarre instances – the CCTV blindspots, the stolen laptop, the storm drain, his missing clothes – and allegations of the police’s mishandling of the case, have opened the door to a flurry of conjecture about Noah’s death. The hope for Fiona Donohoe is that the long-delayed inquest, and ongoing investigations, will provide some solid evidence to cut through the noise, and give a clearer picture of what happened to Noah that summer evening on the 21st June 2020.