Broken family. / sur

15 years with no news of Amy Fitzpatrick, the Irish teenager who disappeared in Mijas

"It's not right that they're not still looking for her, she was only a girl. And she's my best friend," says Ashley, the last person to see her

JUAN CANO MALAGA.

A couple of kilometres uphill. It's a tarmac road apart from 50 metres of gravel, between Calypso and Riviera del Sol in Mijas Costa. Not many people use it but it was well-known to Amy Fitzpatrick, a 15-year-old Irish girl who had walked along there a thousand times between her home and that of her friend Ashley Rubio.

It should have taken her 20 minutes to get home, where she lived with her mother Audrey, her brother Dean and her stepfather, David Mahon, but she never arrived and nobody knows why. Last Sunday marked 15 years since one of the most mystifying disappearances ever to have occurred on the Costa del Sol.

Amy had spent New Year's Eve with Ashley, who was 13 at the time, at her home. "She wanted to stay with me while I looked after my brother. We were on the computer for a while, chatting to our friends on Messenger," Ashley says. Her mother, Deborah Rose, got home around 1.30am and found the two girls watching television. Everything was perfectly normal.

The initial hypothesis was that Amy had run away but over time her disappearance did not appear to be voluntary

They went to bed about 3am, and got up late. "We got up and went out. I wanted to buy some clothes so we went to Fuengirola, but we had forgotten that it was New Year's Day and nothing was open, so we came back to El Zoco, in Calahonda. I was tired by then, so we went back to my house," Ashley says.

Deborah recalls Ashley asking if Amy could stay with them again that night. "I said it would be best if she went home and wished her family a Happy New Year," she says. Ashley walked with Amy to the entrance to her estate, where they said goodbye. "See you tomorrow," Ashley said.

It was 10pm on 1 January 2008, and the last time she ever saw her friend. Amy was carrying a Bershka bag containing a track suit Ashley had lent her and a pink-coloured Irish mobile phone which she used to listen to music. "She had a Spanish phone but her stepfather broke it during a row a few days before," says Ashley, who is 28 now and a hairdresser like her mother.

The next morning a friend asked Ashley if she wanted to go out. "I rang Amy to tell her to come over, and her mother said she thought she was with me. She hadn't gone home the night before, which was really strange," she says.

She went out with her other friend, but was worried about Amy. She used to go round to Ashley's house every day, always about 3pm, so at 3.30 Ashley rang her mother to see if she had turned up, but she hadn't. She rang again at six o'clock and there had still been no sign of Amy. It was extremely unusual. "I remember saying to my mother that something wasn't right," she says.

Deborah rang Audrey and said her daughter was really worried about Amy. "I said that if she didn't ring the police, I would. She assured me that she was going to," she says.

That night, 2 January, Ashley went to Amy's house before going back to her own. Audrey said she had rung the Guardia Civil and they had said she would have to go in person and make a report. She also said Amy's stepfather had gone out looking for her.

No signs of violence

Amy Fitzpatrick's disappearance was considered worrying from the start because of her age, but that was the only reason. The Guardia Civil, who took charge of the investigation, did not find any sign whatsoever to indicate that a kidnapping or crime had taken place.

The officers carried out a detailed search of the path between the two girls' houses, centimetre by centimetre, and found no signs of violence.

For the Guardia Civil the principle hypothesis, at least for the first few weeks, was that Amy had run away. Investigators had certain grounds to think this likely: she had gone missing voluntarily in the past, although only for a matter of hours, and it seemed that she did not have a good relationship with her stepfather.

In addition, Amy had had an argument with her mother because she had cancelled the trip to Ireland that they had planned on 26 December so she and her brother Dean could see their father, Cristopher Fitzpatrick.

"I remember she came to my house crying, and said "please, let me come in," and went into Ashley's room," Deborah says.

To a teenager, Amy's apparent freedom was enviable. "I used to think, 'I wish my mother would let me stay out so late', but I see it differently now and I probably would have done a lot more for her. Amy had a very sad life," Ashley says.

At one point the Guardia Civil issued an alert about a car, a white Ford Fiesta on British plates, which belonged to one of Amy's friends, a 34-year-old Irishman who used to fix her computer for her. Amy knew he used to leave the car unlocked and she used to get into it sometimes. The vehicle was stolen around the same time that she went missing, but this line of investigation, that Amy had run away, came to nothing. The lack of clues eventually tipped the balance towards her disappearance not being voluntary.

Two years later, Amy's mother and stepfather offered a reward of one million euros for the person who provided a clue that led to her whereabouts. In five days the phone number they gave received over 100 calls, although only four had any information.

In May 2013, five years after Amy went missing, another tragedy struck the family: Dean, her older brother, was stabbed to death. He was 23. Their stepfather, David Mahon, was arrested and later found guilty of manslaughter. He served a five-year jail sentence.

At his trial, Mahon said he and Dean had argued over a bottle. He told the court he had snatched a knife that Dean was carrying but during the ensuing struggle Dean had stabbed himself with it, so his death had either been accidental or suicide.

Never given up

Audrey apparently accepted the explanation given by Mahon about what had happened and even married him two years later. Amy's mother has never given up searching for her daughter. She set up a Facebook page about her, and in February last year she celebrated Amy's 30th birthday.

In an interview with the Irish Mirror, Audrey revealed that she had received information from someone in Amy's circle who said she had allegedly got involved in a drugs transport deal with two men who said they would pay her 100 euros if she pretended to be the daughter of one of them.

Amy's father has set up a petition on Change.org, asking the Irish and Spanish authorities to resume the investigation, which has been at an impasse for 15 years.

Ashley is also critical of the lack of progress in both countries: "They haven't done anything for years. If Amy had been Spanish, or if she had gone missing in Ireland, they would all have done more. It's not right that they aren't still looking for her. She was a 15-year-old girl. And she is my best friend," she says.