The mother and sisters of a vulnerable man found dead in a canal are desperate to piece together the mysterious final moments of his life.
Police believe trainee chef Johnny Connelly was involved in an altercation while walking home from work in Glasgow city centre on July 15.
The body of the 28-year-old, who had learning difficulties, was recovered from the canal at Speirs Wharf, Port Dundas, a week later.
Johnny’s mum Norah said his death was her “worst nightmare” and begged anyone with knowledge of the alleged altercation to do the right thing.
She told STV News: “I just want to give my son a cuddle and tell him that I love him. All I’ve got is his ashes in an urn. Johnny was irreplaceable, my friend. I can’t imagine life without him.
“I just want the answers. It’s like pieces are missing from the end of my son’s life. I need to know what happened at the end, his family need to know.
“Somebody has to account for it. If they could do this to my son, they’re capable of doing it again. Please come forward.”
Johnny, who also coached kids’ football, had developmental issues and a reduced sense of danger, which his family say made him vulnerable.
After spending time with a friend, he was seen walking alone up Buchanan Street at 10pm towards the bus station, then Dundasvale Court and the underpass at Garscube Road. But he never made it back to the home he shared with his mum in Milton.
For a week, the family’s concerns grew. Norah said: “The night before the police came, I said to my brother ‘I’ve got a feeling I’m not going to see my son again’. He said ‘don’t think like that’. I said ‘I’m telling you, I know’. It was just an overwhelming feeling I’ve got, I’m not going to see my boy again and I didn’t.”
Three months after Johnny’s body was found, police issued a public appeal – saying he suffered head and body injuries and may have been involved in an altercation in the underpass beside the canal.
Johnny, a keen goalkeeper, was outgoing and popular and lived life to the full. Norah added: “I couldn’t protect my son for life. I had to let him grow up, be the person he was meant to be.”
Johnny’s twin sister – also called Norah – was his protective ‘partner in crime’ while growing up and seven months’ pregnant with her daughter when he died.
She said: “We’re all torturing ourselves every night over these endless scenarios of what could have happened to him. He was so gentle and kind-hearted. He had a great nature. He just didn’t deserve this.
“We know there are people out there that know. We just want them to come forward and help us try and move forward in life and help Johnny get some justice that he deserves.”
Johnny’s elder sister Michelle “collapsed to the floor” when police officers delivered the devastating news his body had been found. She said: “We were crushed basically, our world ended.”
She is struggling to come to terms with so many unanswered questions – while her four-year-old daughter Lola also misses him.
On Lola’s first day at nursery, she asked Uncle Johnny to hold her hand. Michelle said: “She’s been really confused about it all as well, having to try and explain it to her. She’s been drawing pictures for him and wondering why she’s not been getting to see him again.”
Michelle also urges anyone with information to speak up, adding: “We’ve been having nightmares, waking up in nightmares. We will not rest. We’ll never accept it until we get justice and some form of closure, especially my mum.”
This Saturday will be Norah’s first birthday without her son and the family is dreading the festive season without him.
She said: “I’m not going to have a birthday card off my son and my wee box of chocolates or to wish me happy birthday. And Christmas Day I’m not going to have a card from my son and he’s not going to be here to wish me a happy Christmas.
“When the New Year comes, me and my son had this arrangement. Johnny would go out the front door and stand there for about ten minutes until the bells and then chap my door. He would always be my first foot. We’ve done that every year and we’re not going to have that this year either. It’s devastating.”
Michelle added: “It’s going to be the hardest Christmas of our lives. There’s definitely people out there that know what’s happened here and they’re just not speaking.”
Police Scotland said: “There have not been any further developments on this case and we have been keeping the family fully updated.”