THE day began in hope but ended with the crushing news everyone feared and dared not face.
Only hours before, parents had come from across Scotland to form a human chain of emotion: individuals locked together in the search for a missing boy.
Mums and dads from across north Edinburgh and beyond had joined police officers in a determined hunt for the toddler.
Pushing babies in buggies and with toddlers in tow, they took to the woods and hills next to the Forth’s icy waters, joined by pensioners, parents of grown-up children and individual volunteers who just wanted to help.
Police praised the “vital” assistance provided by at least 200 members of the public, who turned out to scour the land and boost a round-the-clock search operation which has drawn in specialist teams from around S cotland.
Time and again, the feeling expressed by volunteer searchers was the same – what if this had been my child? Would others have helped me?
Hope was sparked briefly by a possible sighting reported not far from the North Edinburgh Neighbourhood Centre in West Pilton Gardens, where only hours before hundreds gathered for dispatch to search muster points in Cramond and Silverknowes.
But as each hour passed without confirmed information on Mikaeel’s whereabouts, concern grew.
West Pilton Gardens resident Aurelia Okom – a 31-year-old mother-of-three who lives next to the stretch of road where the sighting was reported and with a son, Chris, the same age as Mikaeel – said: “To be honest, I’m very scared – every time I see my own son, I think of Mikaeel.
“Ever since this whole thing started, I’ve been double-locking my door. But I have the belief that he will be found. And I would like to help find him.”
As cans of Irn-Bru and oat bars were handed out at the neighbourhood centre yesterday morning, volunteers, some of whom had been up all night, gathered to prepare for a second day of searching.
Pennywell Medway resident Amber Stronach, 26, said: “I left my flat round about ten o’clock last night and I’m still up now.
“It was very difficult. A couple of times we had a cry to ourselves. When you’re searching, everything goes through your head.
“But whether we had a cry or a laugh, it was all we could do to keep our spirits up. And I won’t go to bed until they say he’s been found. Regardless of what my body thinks, I won’t stay away.
“This is a three-year-old little boy – any person with a heart would drop what they’re doing and help find him. All this boy will be feeling is fear. Local companies have been great. The 24-hour Asda at Newhaven gave us torches and batteries for the torches, and some sandwiches we divvied up between people during the night.”
West Pilton Avenue resident Traci Gaven, 30, whose daughter, Logan, is seven, said: “You’ve got to help.
“I have taken the day off work to come. It’s something local, it’s on your doorstep and its in your face.”
West Pilton Park resident Johanna Tyler, 39, a mother-of-eight, including a two-year-old-son, Brodie, said: “Last night I was pacing my floor not able to sleep. Our community gets a bad name but when something like this happens we show community spirit.
“It’s the age of the boy that worries me. Every time I look at Brodie, I think where would he go? That’s what I keep thinking – he’s just a wee boy.
“Maybe it’s the age of the boy, maybe it’s because I’m a mother myself – if it happened to me, I would hope that everybody would help. You just can’t sit and do nothing.”
Local and national politicians also joined the search, with Forth ward councillor Vicki Redpath cancelling a trip so she could take part.
The Labour group member said: “There have been hundreds of people coming from Edinburgh, people from Fife, East and West Lothian.
“I believe people have come over from the west coast as well. This isn’t just locals. People are treating this as if it was one of their own.
“There’s a determination that people are not going to give up – it’s the best kind of stubbornness. I was supposed to be in York today but we’ve just cancelled because there’s no way I could leave Edinburgh at a time like this.”
On the wooded slopes next to Cramond beach, that same stubbornness emerged even more vividly, as a massive human chain was formed to comb every inch of land in the hunt for a vital clue.
Frank Banks, 77, and his wife, Paulina, 50, had travelled to the Capital from their home near Dundee city centre. He said: “You’ve got to do something – I would rather be out in the woods searching. We wanted to see if we could help.
“When we heard he had gone missing, I felt that I couldn’t just sit in the house. We couldn’t just sit in and watch telly.”
That feeling was echoed by new mum Kerry Millar, 27, who lives in Waterfront Gait with her newborn son, Dawson, and said: “I was out yesterday searching so I’m just continuing today. When I heard he had gone missing I felt I couldn’t just sit in the house and got out and started searching the local area.
“We won’t know until we find him whether it’s helping to do this but you can’t leave anything unexplored.”
With the search for little Mikaeel appearing to have ended tragically, it is understood churches across Edinburgh are preparing to say prayers for him. Back at West Pilton Gardens yesterday afternoon, there was only a sense of shock over the scale of the search.
Resident and mum of one Sarah Wakeley, 33, said: “It’s just because it’s kids. Everyone feels the same. If it was one of my own, you would hope everyone would do the same.”