Where are you Leo?
The anguish of not knowing what happened to their son Leo Lipp-Neighbours, who disappeared four years ago today, has not lessened for his parents. Laura Basham talks with Colin Neighbours and Charlotte Lipp.
‘I t would be the best thing if he could walk back into our lives," says the mother of Leo Lipp-Neighbours, missing for four years today.
The heartache and agony of not knowing what happened since Leo disappeared on Sunday, January 24, 2010 in Nelson have not gone away.
Nor has the investigation, with police who have reviewed the case concluding that his disappearance was the result of foul play.
The 19-year-old student went missing after he left his Watson St flat in Washington Valley at 4am, after being out with friends. Extensive searches have failed to find him or his distinctive orange Toyota station wagon.
"All I can say is we the family are still none the wiser, and that we miss our son. We miss him as much as ever," his mother Charlotte Lipp says.
The family are appealling for anyone who might know something about Leo's disappearance to come forward, and for the public to continue keeping an eye out for him.
Police searched three Blenheim properties two weeks ago. They said the searches did not uncover anything to link the occupants to Leo, but they seized computers from one property.
"I guess I would rather Leo was not murdered, to be quite honest, but apart from that, because of no luck finding anything, because we have done so much searching and not found anything, we have had to consider that something else happened," Mrs Lipp says. "Until we know, we keep an open mind.
"I still always wish he would walk back into our lives."
She was unsure how she would spend today's anniversary of his disappearance.
"I am always thinking of my son, not all the time, but he is always there.
"Four years and I guess . . . hopefully he does not suffer any more, and if he's alive, it would be the best thing if he walked back into our lives."
She asks those who are interested in knowing what Leo looked like to or who want to know about the $50,000 reward offered to look on the Crimestoppers website, or the police missing persons website, or the Leo Lipp-Neighbours website set up when the searches began.
She is content to leave the police to their investigation, and says detectives still keep in touch. She also knows that anonymous information continues to come in to Crimestoppers.
"Leo's is very much an ongoing case. I suppose it is good that there is hope to find out what happened to him. We don't know what happened to Leo, so it's a good thing they are still working on it.
"In terms of the foul play possibility, we cannot do anything.
"If anybody knows anything, they need to come forward. They just need to come forward."
Who to call? Anyone with information about Leo's disappearance can contact Nelson police on 03 546 3840.
Information can also be given anonymously by calling Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
Of all the scenarios about the unsolved mystery of Leo Lipp-Neighbours' disappearance, his father Colin Neighbours believes an accident is the most likely.
He figures that Leo was probably driving a bit recklessly after leaving his Watson St flat. "Because of his state of mind, because of what friends said - and he was a bit like that anyway. He pushed machines to the limit.
"And a lack of sleep, alcohol was involved, the time of day, darkness, the road conditions, he would have been on a wet road, it had been raining. He could have been on a gravel road, with poor traction.
"We have looked around searching, and we still don't know which direction he headed or how far he went. We could so easily have missed him."
Family, friends, and volunteers searched extensively for Leo after his disappearance.
"There must be a car somewhere. Always, we have to ask ourselves, why can't we find it?
"He was my only child, and I was very much involved in his upbringing. It's just a huge loss and a loss that never lessens to me."
Mr Neighbours won't be searching today, however. "I will be thinking all day, that's for sure. I just feel we have searched so much already it's almost futile.
"I just get ill when I start looking, to be honest, so I try to do something more productive. That's better for me, as much as I would love to find that car, to try to find what happened to him."
Mr Neighbours has moved from his Monaco home, where Leo, an mechanical engineering student at Canterbury University, had been building a buggy in the garage. Now he has a block of land and keeps himself occupied working on it.
He would rather not think about the possibility of foul play.
"I see in the paper the police believe it is foul play, somebody knows something. They have not said why - they are not giving us details. I guess it could compromise their inquiries."
Though he finds it hard, he also raises the possibility of suicide.
"I can't see why Leo would do that, but young people can get themselves in a state of mind that's not rational if they are worked up about something."
Police have told him that generally, people who took their own lives did not conceal themselves, and a high percentage were found, he says.
Despite the anguish, he's not looking for attention.
"We are not alone in this. There are so many people who lose their child - it does not have to be a child, they lose their partners or friends. It's all loss of a loved one. I have seen other people suffering. We are not unique."
Nor does he want others to experience what Leo's family and friends have. "I think of others who can have this happen to them, and how it can be avoided.
"I think his friends are probably feeling they could have done more. They were with him that night and heard what he was saying. Young mates and friends like that should look out for each other a bit more."
Parents were always concerned for their children, Mr Neighbours said. "If they are not telling you all, how can you know? They may share their thoughts with other friends. That's what happened in this case."
His message is that when young people are feeling down, they need to share that with someone who will help them.
"Their parents will help them, and if they think they won't, they should share it with someone who is qualified, like a counsellor, and there is Youthline."
He believes it may have been Leo's frame of mind that led to his death. "If someone could have helped him, then it may not have happened."
When someone tells his or her friends that they are expressing dissatisfaction with life or feeling down, the friends should call the parents, he says. "If that had happened that night, it could have been totally different."
He is also concerned about young people putting themselves in vulnerable situations.
"After Leo, there were quite a few nasty acts of violence in Nelson. Young people need to be aware not to be on their own in the early hours. Just stick with their mates, in a place where they are not going to get into difficulties."
Regardless of what happened, he hopes others will continue to look out for Leo's orange 1987 Toyota station wagon.
"I just like people to remember that if they are in the bush, or offroad, hunters and logging gangs, and if they ever do see a car and think it's just a dumped car, to think, ‘Hey this could be that car'.
"If people come across bodies of water, reservoirs or ponds, anywhere where there is public access, where a car could have been driven into, can they note where it is and let the police know."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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