Recalling the day Fiona went missing

2014-12-20 00:00

THE vanishing of Fiona Harvey left an indelible mark on Clarendon ­Primary School with notes on her ­disappearance etched into log books ­detailing the school’s history.

Its halls were the epicentre of the search effort where the footsteps of hundreds of police and volunteers were co-ordinated.

Digby Rhodes, who was the principal at the time of her disappearance, still has vivid memories of the young girl who disappeared.

Rhodes is the father of South African cricket legend Jonty Rhodes and continues to teach at Merchiston ­Preparatory School in Pietermaritzburg.

In an interview with Weekend Witness, Rhodes recalled a day in his career that he would scarcely forget.

“I remember her vividly and I can still see her face. Losing her was so traumatic and it hit the community hard because we were so tight-knit. It was safe for kids to be on the streets before she went missing and the day she disappeared all of that changed,” he said.

“She went missing during the school holidays and I was actually at school on that particular day. I walked into the office that morning to get some things done and by the time I had gotten home, the news had broken that she was gone.”

Rhodes said he bore a sentiment of responsibility when Fiona went missing. “When she went to the shops, she must have passed right by my window without me even realising it. What got to me more than anything else is that I wasn’t able to protect her in that situation. I feel like I was responsible for all of the children in my care and her class took it so hard. They felt vulnerable, as if God was out to get them,” he said.

The veteran teacher said that he had called in his staff to join hundreds of volunteers to search the narrow streets and open fields around the school.

“I called in all the staff and we looked everywhere and even went up into the hills behind Wykeham Collegiate in case she had been taken into the forest.”

News spread like wild fire and people descended on the home and the school to help search.

“Being the headmaster, I called in at the family home, and offered my support and pledged to do whatever we could. We really did try our best.

“The staff took a knock, I think more so than the kids. I don’t think the kids could understand the ­urgency and the gravity of what was happening and the teachers felt it,” he said.

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