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Sunday, 18 August, 2002, 20:43 GMT 21:43 UK
Community numb as search ends
Tim Auban-Jones vicar of St Andrews Church (left), Acting Deputy Chief Constable of Cambridgeshire Police Keith Hoddy (centre) and DCI Andy Hebb
The police have asked for the media to leave Soham

The search for Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman finally ended shrouded in undergrowth, beside a remote track, a world away from the homes where the girls were so loved.

Confirmation from the police that they were as certain as they could be that two corpses were those of the 10-year-olds was expected - but when it came the finality was overwhelming.

The detective leading the investigation, Andy Hebb, stared grimly ahead as a senior officer read the official announcement without emotion: "It is with great sadness that I have to tell you the following news..."

Dear Holly and Jessica, may you two angels fly off to a better world

Note on a bouquet, left at St Andrew's Church

When the statements ended there was none of the usual clamour of questions from the assembled media outside St Andrew's Church. Instead, there was only silence and, for some, tears.

For the families, to speak now of their loss was too much to bear.

But their emotions rang through the straight-forward delivery of their words by the police.

They were "still numb" they said, from their terrible loss.

But, amidst their own pain, they found words to thank the town, the media and the wider community for their support over their "traumatic fortnight".

Silent tribute

The scrum of journalists, passers-by and the officers themselves bowed their heads for a minute's silence in a corner of the churchyard, where only days ago the people of Soham had lit candles of hope for the girls' return.

Throughout the day, hundreds made pilgrimages to St Andrews to lay flowers and leave messages for Jessica, Holly and their families.

"It is what we might have expected, this spontaneous outpouring," said parish priest, The Reverend Tim Alban Jones.

St Andrews Church, Soham
Hundreds of people have paid tribute to the missing girls

"But it is the outcome that we feared."

At RAF Lakenheath, near where the bodies were found, airmen were touched by the tragic events that reached their grim conclusion on the doorstep of their base.

"Our hearts go out to the families.

They are in our prayers," said Master Sergeant Will Ackerman.

"This has happened in our backyard and no one can fail to have been moved by what has gone on."

Terrible wounds

In the coming weeks and months, the community of Soham will face the task of healing the wounds that the deaths have rent - and trying to find a way of dealing with the sorrow that will be so keenly felt as the girls are laid to rest.

But for now there is a sense of emptiness and desolation.

"I feel ashamed," said one elderly lady, "ashamed that such things could happen in my town."

Scenes of crime officers
Further examinations on the bodies will be carried out at hospital
In Wangford Fen, police were clearing the site where the bodies were found and officers had worked through the night to gather evidence.

Military floodlights brought in to illuminate the scene had earlier lent the proceedings the air of a macabre film set.

Now, the gruesome job complete, the teams were going home.

In Soham too, there was a plea for the bustle and clutter of the last 14 days to be swept away.

"While we appreciate your support and your assistance in this very trying time, we would like as a family for you to respect our privacy and allow us some time alone," Acting Deputy Chief Constable Keith Hoddy said in a statement on behalf of Cambridgeshire Police.

It was a request that major organisations, including the BBC, readily agreed to.





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