DUBLIN – Forensics specialists searching for unmarked graves of Irish Republican Army victims announced Tuesday they have found the suspected remains of a 21-year-old man who disappeared from Catholic west Belfast in 1973.
Confirmation of the discovery, following one week of excavations at a village beach north of Belfast, came as relatives of the IRA's remaining "disappeared" victims staged a silent protest march outside Northern Ireland's parliament building. They carried a black wreath dotted with white lilies symbolizing each one of the missing.
The siblings of Peter Wilson -- who vanished after reportedly expressing interest in joining the British army and visiting an army base -- said they found it hard to believe that their brother's remains had finally been found underneath the sandy shores of Waterfoot.
"This is a special day for our family," Wilson's siblings said in a statement. "For 37 years, we have missed him and have often wondered what happened."
"Right now it has not completely sunk in. We were hopeful when the dig began, but we did not expect a result so soon," the family said. The victim's father died in 1974, his mother in 2007.
The find represented the latest in a string of breakthroughs this year by the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains.
For the past 11 years, the joint British-Irish group has been trying to pinpoint the places where the IRA hid bodies of people that the outlawed group didn't want to admit killing. In most cases, the victims were Catholic civilians who lived in IRA power bases and had crossed the underground organization in some way.
In 1999, two years after ending its failed campaign to force Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom, the IRA finally admitted it killed most -- but not all -- of those on the list of the disappeared.
IRA members, including some directly involved in the abductions and killings, followed up by providing confidential tip-offs to the commission.
Most of that information proved too imprecise or inaccurate for initial excavations to find remains, despite months of painstaking work. But persistent appeals by relatives of the dead persuaded IRA members to try harder to find details on where their loved ones ended up.
Before Tuesday's discovery, the experts had found the remains of eight people, including two others this year. Seven others on the "disappeared" list remain missing, including a British army intelligence officer abducted as he tried to mingle with IRA members in a border pub in 1976.
Those taking part in Tuesday's memorial march outside the parliament building included Patricia Gearon, one of Wilson's sisters; Kathleen Armstrong, whose husband's remains were found in July; and Mary Evans, whose son Gerry's remains were found last month.
The latter two men both disappeared in 1981 from Crossmaglen, an IRA power base on the Northern Ireland border, and were buried in unpopulated bogland across the border.
Armstrong, 57, reportedly was killed after he refused to hand over his car to IRA hijackers. An IRA man last year said Evans, 24, was killed after being suspected of passing information on IRA activities to police.