As the search for missing teacher Catherine Johnston continues, her principal has urged that no one gives up hope.
Hazelwood College principal Kathleen O’Hare said Mrs Johnston, who disappeared from her home in east Belfast on Tuesday, was like “a mother” to the children at the school.
Principal Mrs O’Hare said: “It was a good day on Thursday so all the children should have been outside at break time. I noticed three boys standing at the door of Catherine’s class.
“I asked them why they weren’t outside and they said they wanted to be close to Mrs Johnston. These are three 13-year-old boys. It shows you how much she means to the children.”
Mrs Johnston’s car was discovered at Ballintoy Harbour on Wednesday, sparking a land and sea search for the 39-year-old science teacher.
Principal Mrs O’Hare said: “There are extremely difficult days ahead for her husband Tim and her son James and Catherine’s parents, and the school here, particularly the science department.
“She’d been off ill on Monday. It was unexpected, everything that’s happened is unexpected.”
Mrs Johnston has been teaching at Hazelwood since 2005. The science teacher is head of year 12 which puts 150 children in her care. Under her guidance that year group achieved its best ever results last year.
Her principal described her as a “key middle manager” who was “extremely popular” with both staff and pupils.
Mrs O’Hare said: “Catherine is extremely pastoral. She is like a mother to the children.
“She made sure every single child achieved their potential. She never gave up on anyone, we hope that no one gives up on her.
“She would be the first person to the fore if this had happened to one of her colleagues.”
The Hazelwood head continued: “There is an air hanging over the school. There is hope but there is also fear.
“It’s Christmas jumper day on Friday. We went ahead with it, she’d have expected us to do that.
“The carol service took place on Thursday and our Chaplain Rev Trevor Kelly said that wherever Catherine was she had God by her side.
“We’re a very tight network here and Catherine was a big part of establishing that. She’s the first thing on our mind in the mornings and we’ll be texting each other last thing at night about her.
“The support from other schools has been amazing.”