THERE was widespread relief in Tullykeel Ardee when the news broke that the four missing Eaton children had been found by PSNI officers at Newcastle county Down. Two people were arrested but released without charge.
For two-and-a-half days the mid-Louth townland became the centre of media attention as an international hunt began for the children involving the Garda Siochana, PSNI, British police and Interpol.
The Eatons had just moved to Tullykeel last December and were living at Steven Appleton’s six-bedroom rented house with stables, the newly-built Tullykeel Lodge.
Few people in Tullykeel knew Ms Rebecca Eaton and her children.
“Nobody in the area seems to know much about them,” said Ardee Town Councillor Dolores Minogue. “They have only been here a short time.
“I’m just glad the children have been brought back safely. I feel for the mother who had to go through such a terrible thing.”
“You would never see them around,” one neighbour said.
Another neighbour also said the Eatons hadn’t been living in the area very long.
“All I know is that they are English, and I prayed they would be found safe.”
The search for the missing children, Chloe 12, Jessica 10, Jon 5 and Megan 1, began on Friday and ended after a tip-off to the PSNI on Sunday morning. The children were found safe and well in a rented cottage at Newcastle in county Down.
The children had been left in the care of Steven Appleton, a thirty-year-old Englishman, when their mother Rebecca Eaton had to go into Our Lady of Lourdes hospital for minor treatment.
When she was discharged from hospital on Thursday and returned home Mr Appleton and her four children were gone. She contacted the gardai and reported the children missing.
When gardai failed to reach Mr Appleton on his mobile phone, a full-scale search was launched.
The gardai believed that he was travelling with another woman and her two children along with Rebecca Eaton’s four children in a silver Opel Zafira.
The other woman had been staying at Mr Appleton’s house over the past few weeks.
On Saturday evening the search intensified when gardai alerted the PSNI, British police services and Interpol.
Their car was seen in the North on Friday and a bankcard was used to buy clothes at a store in Newry.
Gardai issued photographs of the four missing children and Mr Appleton to police at sea ports and airports both here and in Britain.
Meanwhile, Rebecca Eaton waited anxiously for news of her children at Tullykeel Lodge. Her mother flew in from Britain on Saturday evening to be with her.
Mr Stephen Appleton is well-known in horse racing circles in Britain and was thought to have become friendly with Rebecca Eaton when she lived with her children in the south of England.