The mother of Richard Okorogheye has spoken of her heart being “ripped apart” after the student’s body was found in a lake in Epping Forest, Essex.
Evidence Joel, a community nurse, said she was “completely hollow and devastated and empty” after police confirmed on Wednesday that the body found on Monday was that of her 19-year-old son.
“Life is already empty, there’s like a cloud just hovering around, it took the sun away from me,” she said. “At this moment of time I just want answers as how my son lost his life. I want answers. I desperately need closure.”
Joel, 39, told Sky News she had been to the site where her son’s body was found to lay flowers.
“It was a very uncomfortable place to be. I wouldn’t want to be there. My son that I know cannot walk into that darkness – no torch, no light. An hour and 30 minutes from where he was last seen. He must have guts to do that. He’s only 19. What could push him to go that far if he wasn’t meeting somebody?”
Joel later said she hoped to build a foundation in her son’s name to support sufferers of sickle cell disease and young people with their mental health as she thanked contributors to a GoFundMe appeal to help towards funeral costs and erect a memorial bench near to where he was found.
Okorogheye, a first-year computer science student at Oxford Brookes University, left his family home in the Ladbroke Grove area of west London on the evening of 22 March at about 8.30pm.
Police said further inquiries have established that he took a taxi journey from the W2 area of London to a residential street in Loughton, Essex. He was last seen on CCTV in Loughton, walking alone on Smarts Lane towards Epping Forest at 12.39am on Tuesday 23 March. He was reported missing the following day.
On Monday, the Metropolitan police said they were informed by Essex police that a body had been found in a lake. The death is being treated as unexplained and police do not believe at this stage that there was any third-party involvement or any suspicious activity.
Investigators are still looking at his computer and searching the forest for his shoes, phone and bag.
Okorogheye had been shielding and had left home only to attend hospital appointments. Joel had previously told the Guardian she had no idea why her son had travelled to Epping Forest, or if he knew anybody in that area. He was a regular PlayStation 5 gamer, and she had appealed to his online friends to contact the police if they had any information.
Joel described her son as the “perfect child” and said she was “lucky” to be his mother. “He will always be my baby and I will always be his mother and no one can take that away from me,” she said.
Police said a referral has been made to the Met’s Directorate of Professional Standards and to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) “as a matter of routine”, over the handling of the student’s disappearance.
Joel has previously said that after making the initial missing persons report on 22 March, police “did nothing”. She said she was initially told her son was an adult, who could go out and come back whenever he wanted.
She said she told officers her son had no jacket and no money, adding: “I’m worried, I’m concerned about his wellbeing.” It was only on the following Sunday and Monday after his disappearance that she “felt like they were doing something”, she said.