THE heartbroken mum and friends of Richard Okorogheye have laid flowers in Epping Forest after a body was found in the search for the missing teenager.
Richard, 19, disappeared two weeks ago after telling his mum he was "struggling to cope" with lockdown.
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The body of a man was found in a pond in Epping Forest, Essex on Monday, and has not yet been identified.
A post-mortem is due to take place today as Richard's family face an agonising wait.
Mourners including Richard's mum Evidence Joel were seen today laying flowers at the scene of the tragic discovery.
Ms Joel, 39, has said she's been told "the body matches Richard's description".
Community nurse Ms Joel told the Evening Standard: “We thought Richard would be found or would just come home.
"But he’s not. My baby will never come home to his mummy again.
"I can’t even describe the feeling. He was taken away from me too early. The only child I have.
"It’s devastating and the last thing I thought I’d hear."
She said the police will visit her home to speak to her today.
“We didn’t give up hope but the conclusion is not what we expected," she said.
"The police are coming this morning to speak to me properly but they said the body matches Richard’s description.”
Richard, a business and IT undergraduate at Oxford Brookes University, has sickle cell disease.
He was last seen by his family on March 22. That night, he left his home in Ladbroke Grove, West London.
He was seen walking in Kensington at around 8.40pm before boarding the 23 bus southbound.
He then took a taxi to Loughton, Essex and was spotted on CCTV near Epping Forest on March 23.
Police search officers, dog units, and specialist police divers have been scouring the area for five days.
Speaking to reporters outside Scotland Yard today, Metropolitan Police Detective Superintendent Danny Gosling said: "Yesterday afternoon we were informed by colleagues from Essex Police that a body had been found in a lake in the Epping Forest area.
"While we wait for formal identification, we have spoken to Richard's family to update them with this latest development.
POST-MORTEM WILL TAKE PLACE TODAY, SAYS TOP OFFICER
"Our specially trained officers remain with the family as they have done throughout this inquiry."
Mr Gosling said police remain in the area to carry out further searches as they try to piece together what happened to Richard.
"The post-mortem examination will take place shortly and we are also waiting for formal identification," he said.
"This is an extensive inquiry, and we are working tirelessly to establish the full circumstances. This includes forensic medical and specialist inquiries, which all take time to complete."
Ms Joel, 39, spoke of her "hell" earlier this week as she waited for news of her son.
She told The Guardian: "It’s very difficult. It’s hell.
“I feel completely helpless. Helpless, and also, sorry to use this word, but I feel useless.
“Not knowing where Richard is, with his health condition as well, it’s a complete nightmare.
"Every day is a nightmare for me now. The days are going by. Time is ticking and I don’t know what to expect,” she said.
"Because I want to go out there, to do something to look for him, search for him, anything. But I can’t."
Speaking on Sky News last week, Ms Joel said she feared Richard had met someone through Playstation 5 who "gained his trust".
She said: "I'm shocked he even knows where Loughton is, as I don't even know where that place is.
"I think he went to meet somebody. Definitely. Richard cannot go there. Especially at that time in the morning… someone was waiting for Richard."
She continued: "Definitely, he was talking to someone. Someone that he trusted and was fond of. Maybe the person gave him confidence.
"Somehow knew his aspirations, his interests, so he confided in that person, built confidence and trust."
He had been shielding due to a sickle cell disease since the pandemic took hold last year.
The Met said detectives had been working around the clock to trace his next steps after this sighting and had searched in and around the forest as well as carrying out door-to-door enquiries.
They were also working alongside specialist search teams and colleagues from Essex Police.
As someone with sickle cell disease, Mr Okorogheye would only leave the house to go to hospital for regular blood transfusions for his condition.
His mum had made repeated calls for him to return home.
She said: “Richard, we love you and miss you very much, please can you come home.
"We aren’t angry at you. We just want to know that you’re okay.
“For anyone reading this, we are desperately missing our son. If you know anything or know where he might be, please come forward and speak to the police.”
She previously told Sky News: “All he said to me was, 'Mummy, I'm going to see my friend'.
“I trusted him, I had no doubt or no reason to ask him further questions.
"It's my baby, it's my treasure. He's my oxygen, he's my crown. He's everything to me, he's the reason why I live, the reason I exist.
"Right now I'm empty, there is nothing to look forward to. He's taken my breath away from me."
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