Gaia Pope’s heartbroken family say ’she will always be with us’ after police find missing teenager’s body on cliffs near Swanage

THE heartbroken family of missing Gaia Pope tonight paid tribute to the "beautiful and creative" teenager after her body was found during a massive police search.

The grim discovery was made on cliffs south of Swanage, Dorset, this afternoon close to where her discarded clothing was found on Thursday.

It came as hundreds of volunteers joined Gaia's dad and aunt to comb the area for clues.

Dorset Police said the discovery was made at around 3pm by specialist search teams near a coastal path and the field.

The devastated sister and cousin of Gaia reacted to the terrible news.

Sister Clara Pope said: “I Just want to tell everybody that every minute of your hard work has been absolutely worth it.

"She is – I'm not going to say was and never will – the absolute light of my life. So beautiful, so emotionally wise and intelligent and so passionate and artistic and creative and understanding.

“And I will always, always, always be one of three. Always one of three. And I just want to thank everybody.

"Everyone. Every hug, every message has been, you know – one of three, that's all I have to say.”

Marienna Pope-Weidemann, Gaia’s cousin added: “We want to thank each and everyone of you for everything you've done.

"If there is one ray of light in this nightmare it is the compassion, humanity and community spirit that you've shown over the last 10 days.

“Your dedication and selflessness for a girl that many of you don't even know has been staggering and one of the few things that kept us going.

“This afternoon the emergency services found Gaia's body. We are absolutely devastated and unable to put those feelings of loss into words.

“We thank you for everything you have done. Our little bird has flown but will always be with us.
“The police will be releasing a statement momentarily. Please respect the family's privacy at this devastating time and keep us in your prayers. Thank you.”

Detective Superintendent Paul Kessell, of Dorset Police's major crime investigation team, said: "Although the body has yet to be formally identified, we are confident that we have found Gaia.

"Her family have been informed and are being supported by specially trained officers.

"Our thoughts remain with all of her family and friends at this very traumatic time. They have requested privacy and that we make no further media releases at this point.

"The coroner has been notified and further forensic examination will continue. This will guide the investigation in respect of the circumstances of the death which at this time remains unexplained.

"I would like to thank the community for their support and understanding while this large-scale investigation continues and their efforts in looking for Gaia.

"We have received a huge amount of support from the public who have contacted us with possible sightings of Gaia and items of found clothing.

"I can confirm that we have recovered all the clothing we believe Gaia was wearing when she disappeared and, with thanks, we no longer require the public to assist with searches."

The devastating news comes hours after hundreds of people joined searches on Saturday afternoon looking for the teenager.

Miss Pope's father, Richard Sutherland, joined volunteers who had come together to search areas around Swanage on Saturday afternoon.

Addressing members of the public who had gathered at Durlston Country Park, Mr Sutherland said: "I just want to say a massive thank you for coming out. It is very heart warming and the support gives us a lot of hope."

Timeline of events surrounding the 19-year-old's disappearance.

* November 7

2.55pm – Miss Pope is seen on CCTV buying an ice cream from a garage on Valley Road, Swanage.

3.39pm – The last confirmed sighting of Miss Pope, on Morrison Road in Swanage.

* November 8

Dorset Police issue a public appeal for help to find Miss Pope.

Miss Pope's family say they are "frantic with worry" and appeal for her to contact them.

* November 10

Dorset Police carry out vehicle stops in Swanage as part of their search for Miss Pope.

Detectives release CCTV footage of Miss Pope on Morrison Road shortly before her disappearance.

* November 13

Search warrants are carried out at two addresses in Swanage, with three vehicles seized.

A 19-year-old man and 71-year-old woman, who are known to Miss Pope, are arrested on suspicion of her murder.

* November 14

Miss Pope's family release a statement vowing to find their "darling girl".

Dorset Police release the 19-year-old man and 71-year-old woman under investigation.

* November 15

Dorset Police release CCTV images of Miss Pope buying an ice cream on the day of her disappearance.

* November 16

10.28am – A member of the public finds women's clothes in a field near Swanage.

Afternoon – A 49-year-old man, from Swanage, is arrested on suspicion of murder. He is named locally as Paul Elsey.

* November 17

Miss Pope's father and cousin say her epilepsy may have played a part in her disappearance.

Police confirm the women's clothing found the previous day matched what the teenager was wearing when last seen as the 49-year-old suspect is released under police investigation.

Natasha Pope, the teenager's mother, said she believed "miracles can happen".

In a message posted on the Find Gaia Facebook group, she said: "I am holding onto hope, along with Gaia's sisters and the whole family who are my strength. Please hold on with us."

* November 18

Volunteers join mass searches of Swanage. People gathered at midday at three separate locations to join line-searches for Miss Pope. Her father, who attended, thanks those that turned out.

3pm – Specialist search teams find a woman's body, which police are "confident" is the missing teenager.

9pm- Family pay tribute to the teen.

The mass searches had been organised by the Find Gaia group on Facebook and saw volunteers gather at the country park, near the main beach and to the north of the town looking for Miss Pope, who suffers from severe epilepsy.

The teenager had not been seen since she vanished on the afternoon of November 7.

Since she disappeared hundreds of missing person posters have been distributed across the county.

Detectives have arrested and released under investigation three people, a 71-year-old woman, a 19-year-old man and a 49-year-old man, named locally as Paul Elsey.

On Friday Miss Pope's mother, Natasha, said she has not given up hope her daughter will be found alive – saying "I believe miracles can happen".

In a message posted on social media, Ms Pope said: "I believe in this community and I believe miracles can happen.

"I am holding onto hope, along with Gaia's sisters and the whole family who are my strength. Please hold on with us.

"My eternal thanks to everyone who is out there searching for my little girl. Please come out over the weekend and do what you can. Every one of you makes a difference."

Earlier, Mr Sutherland said he feared his daughter's epilepsy may have played a part in her disappearance as she had been warned by doctors she was at risk of sudden death from the condition.

Miss Pope has not been seen since about 4pm on November 7 in Manor Gardens, Swanage.

An hour earlier she was captured on CCTV buying an ice cream inside St Michael's Garage in the town, having been driven there by a relative.

She was said to be wearing a red checked shirt with white buttons, grey and white woven leggings and white trainers. The black jacket she had on was recovered from an address in Manor Gardens.

Forensic investigations have concluded at two properties in Manor Gardens, which are believed to be the homes of a 71-year-old woman and a 19-year-old man.

The pair were released under investigation on Tuesday after being arrested on suspicion of murder the previous day.

Earlier, the father of a carpenter who was arrested on suspicion of murdering the teenager accused the police of a "witch hunt".

Three members of Greg Elsey's family have been arrested and then released during the investigation into the 19-year-old's disappearance.

The 69-year-old said his son Paul, a 49-year-old carpenter, was "fine" but nor currently staying at the family home in West Wellow, Hampshire.

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