His life barely had a chance to begin. Before 17-year-old Daniel McAnaspie was found stabbed to death, his body callously discarded by his killers in a drain in Co Meath, he'd suffered more hardship than most people endure over the course of their natural lives.
The odds were stacked against the child since his birth. But despite his difficult upbringing, Daniel McAnaspie's death was not predictable. As a society, we should not shake our heads, and accept that he was simply one of the unlucky ones who fell through the cracks. There are hundreds of examples of teenage boys, mainly in Dublin and Limerick, who are hardened criminals guilty of serious offences. Not so with Daniel. While he was no angel, he was not involved in criminality. He was part of no gang. He was simply a vulnerable young man who was never given the opportunities in life so many Irish teenagers take for granted.
He was a trusting type of youngster. Too trusting, perhaps. As one senior source involved in the murder investigation put it: "Considering what he's been through in life, he could have been turning into a really bad lad. We've seen it all before. The types of young men who turn to crime have usually had a lot of hard knocks in life and are from disadvantaged backgrounds. In fact, that he wasn't going down that path says a lot about him, about the good in him, because he'd had more setbacks than most. And it really shows that his murder should not be regarded as some kind of foregone conclusion. No-one deserves to be murdered, of course. But – how can I put this – Daniel was not involved in anything where someone could ever justify taking his life. It just makes this terribly sad situation even worse."
Daniel was born and raised in Finglas. He was the fourth-eldest of six children and there were problems within his family unit. He was just three years old when his father Noel, who was using drugs, died. His mother Tina simply couldn't cope with the six young children after her husband passed away. She developed a serious dependency on alcohol and some of her children, including Daniel, were taken into state care in 2003. He was just 10 years old. Four years later, his mother died from medical complications relating to her alcohol dependency. At 14, Daniel became an orphan. He was a young man who had never gotten to know his father and then watched as his mother sank further and further into the demon drink. She was unable to cope with the hand life dealt her and could not draw enough emotional strength from her six children to make her own life worth fighting for.
It's no coincidence that the same year his mother died, Daniel dropped out of school. No-one supported the idea of Daniel and some of his brothers and sisters going into care. The teenager had a large extended family. They were all very close and grew up together. But this love from his aunties and uncles wasn't matched with stability in his life. After he went into HSE care, living at various residential institutions and sometimes hostels at the weekend when he got older, his aunt Sabrina decided it would be best if he came to live with her. She looked after Daniel for about two years during his mid-teenage years. "We have a big family, we all grew up together. He lived with me for a couple of years. He wanted help. He needed help and he didn't get it," Sabrina told the Sunday Tribune.
He was a young man with a lot of emotional baggage and this soon became apparent. Sabrina tried her best with her nephew but his problems from his turbulent upbringing began to manifest themselves in troublesome behaviour. He fell in with a bad crowd. He also had major difficulties at the various schools he'd been attending. Another issue for Sabrina was physical space. She had a young family of her own and she simply didn't have the room for her nephew in her family home. Eventually, it was decided it would be best if Daniel went back into care.
Daniel didn't see this as rejection by his aunt. They remained close up until his disappearance in February of this year. "Everyone loved Daniel. He was very trusting. He trusted people too much," said Sabrina. "He was the type of young lad who would give up his seat on the bus for someone else. If one of my kids started to cry, he'd be the first one to check if they were okay. Just a lovely, caring lad. That was Daniel."
His problems at school became apparent almost as soon as he set foot in the classroom at junior infants. Daniel was dyslexic. Because he went into care at 10, he attended several different schools as he was moved around residential care homes. This obviously made it all the more difficult for the child to get the specialist teaching he needed to learn to read and write. So he simply didn't learn the basic literacy skills most people take for granted. It was just another setback in his young life that he was beginning to grow accustomed to.
He soon became frustrated with school. He felt stupid. His dyslexia meant he couldn't grasp most subjects. When his mother died, Daniel stopped making excuses about why he didn't want to go to school anymore. At 14, he just stopped going. His family weren't happy about this. They tried to get him onto a Fás course. He was talented and had an interest in creating things with his hands. But he was too young to gain admittance. At the time of his death, his family were again encouraging him to apply for a Fás course.
Daniel's family blamed the HSE for many of his educational problems. He wanted more than anything to learn to read and write. The teenager looked up to his elder sister Caitriona who had completed her Leaving Cert. He was very proud of her achievement. More than anything, Daniel craved a sense of normality in his life. His family say he lost a place in a special school to help with his literacy problems when he moved in with his aunt Sabrina because of issues with paperwork. When they tried to get him into other schools, no one would enrol him. And when he did not attend school nobody knocked on the door to ask why. The HSE has refused to comment on any aspect of Daniel's time while he was under its supervision as it has begun a review of how he came to be murdered while in state care.
It wasn't just his education that was lacking, the family maintain, but every aspect of his care while he was a responsibility of the state. He hated living in residential homes. He lived in at least three during his seven years in care and he spent at least two of those years living at his aunt's. He frequently ran away. But every time he did so, he kept in touch with his family. At the time of his death, he was living at a HSE residential care home in Donabate, north Co Dublin. On many occasions, particularly at the weekends, he called into garda stations looking for a bed for the night when there was nowhere for him to stay. His sister Caitriona said the HSE essentially washed its hands of him, regarding him as a "street child". On occasion when he was put up in hostels for the night, he got beaten up and his runners and clothing were stolen. He wasn't a streetwise kid. "He was actually a bit of a softie. He was very sensitive too," said someone who knew Daniel, and asked to remain anonymous. "Those character traits can be quite endearing. But it's not a good combination for a kid who was in a vulnerable position like Daniel."
Before the 17-year-old went missing, his aunt Sabrina had a meeting with the HSE. She said she warned them that he would come to harm if he spent more time on the streets. "You're talking about a 17-year-old fellow, who has come from a proper family and doesn't know anything about the streets," she said. "He wanted a proper home. They just threw him around from place to place. He wanted help, but they wouldn't give him as much as he needed. I blame these people. If they had just listened to us, Daniel would still be here."
On the night of his death, Daniel was out with friends in Finglas. It was 26 February. He had heard there was a party at a house in Whitestown Avenue, Blanchardstown, and along with one of his friends, he decided to go. He knew a girl he wanted to see who was going to be there. The two teenagers got a lift to Blanchardstown from their friends from Finglas. Daniel and his friend met three others at the house in Blanchardstown. One of them was the teenage girl he had met before, the two others were young men, slightly older than Daniel, that he had never met before. Plenty of alcohol was consumed over the course of the night. It is believed that Daniel became involved in a row with the two men. The cause of the fighting is unclear. Both of the men have been interviewed but said they didn't know how the teenager ended up murdered.
Daniel's friend is understood to have left the house in Whitestown Avenue when it became evident there was tension brewing. He urged Daniel to leave with him but the 17-year-old told him that he was fine and decided to stay with the two men and the teenage girl. It was another example of the teenager's trusting nature. But this time, it was to have fatal consequences. The last time he was seen alive was at 3.30am on 26 February on the street in Whitestown Avenue. Not long after that, it is believed he was stabbed to death in the throat and upper body by the two men.
Immediately after he disappeared, gardaí and Daniel's family became gravely worried for his safety. Their worst fears were confirmed last Thursday when his body was found dumped in a drain on farmland in Co Meath. It was Saturday before the forensic tests confirmed it was the missing teenager's remains. For the family, there was a sense of relief that their suspicions about the fate that had befallen Daniel were finally confirmed. This emotion was soon overwhelmed by the realisation that he was never coming back.
"We're obviously devastated. We are still waiting to get his body back," said Sabrina. "What's been even more devastating is the stuff in some of the papers. It's hard for his brothers and sisters to be reading about how he died and his body was found. It's been very tough. We hope someone will be brought to justice for Daniel's death."
Detectives say the murder investigation is progressing well. The McAnaspies' solicitor, Michael Finucane, is seeking a prompt and fully independent inquiry into how Daniel died in state care. The McAnaspies have little faith in the HSE's own review of the case. An independent investigation is possible under Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights.
As Daniel died in state care, such an inquiry is not just needed, said Finucane, it is legally mandatory as Ireland signed up to this European Convention in December 2003. "If the independent inquiry is not established, court proceedings will be instigated to ensure it happens," he told the Sunday Tribune.
Of course, none of this will bring Daniel back to his family. But they are drawing some comfort from trying to instigate change. Daniel's murder is just the latest example of welfare services failing a susceptible teenager. He was just one of more than 5,000 children in care that most people rarely spare any thought for. But it's not just dramatic changes by the authorities about how they treat its most vulnerable children that are needed. Irish society also must stop ignoring the issue.
"Questions will be asked publicly and answers will be demanded," said Caitriona. "It is only through rigorous public examination of all the circumstances of Daniel's death that we stand any chance of saving the lives of other children who are at risk."