Searches for missing Oxford Brookes student Richard Okorogheye in Epping Forest today entered their third day as police appealed to the teenager to ‘let us know you are safe.’
Detectives moved their search to Essex after a confirmed sighting showed Mr Okorogheye, 19, walking alone on Smarts Lane, Loughton, towards the woods at 12.39am on March 23.
He is understood to have left his family home in Ladbroke Grove, west London, the previous evening and was reported missing two days later.
Police enquiries later established that Mr Okorogheye then took a taxi towards the residential street in Loughton.
Detectives today confirmed ‘nothing of relevance’ has been found in Epping Forest, which they have been combing for two days in a bid to track down the missing student.
They also issued an appeal directly to Mr Okorogheye, asking him to make contact with detectives or another trusted person ‘to let us know you are safe.’
Police investigating the disappearance of Richard Okorogheye from his family home in Ladbroke Grove, London, are now searching parts of Essex
Police officers searching for Richard Okorogheye are combing through parts of Epping Forest in Essex today, after arriving on Wednesday
Parts of the forest have been cordoned off as officers from Metropolitan Police search the area
Mounted units have been patrolling the Essex woods in search of the teenager since April 1
Detective Superintendent Danny Gosling, Head of the Met’s Central West Public Protection Unit, said: ‘People can go missing from home for any of number of reasons. Our job is not to cast judgement but to work to find them and bring them home safely.
‘My message to Richard is clear. Our only concern is your safety. You are not in trouble and have done nothing wrong.
‘If you read or hear this message we would ask you to contact us, or someone you trust, to let us know you are safe.
‘Your loved ones and many other people who you do not even know, are very concerned.
Police are searching the water in Epping Forest on Thursday. Det Insp Danny Groom said officers do not know why he travelled to Loughton on the night he disappeared
As well as searching the water and woods around Epping Forest, police have been making door-to-door enquiries with locals
Det Supt Gosling said police had detected ‘no activity’ on Mr Okorogheye’s phone since he went missing 10 days ago
Marine search units were deployed today, after specialist horse and canine teams were deployed on Wednesday night
‘I would also like to thank the public for their continued support in sharing our appeals, checking doorbell and dash cam footage and passing on any information.
‘As our efforts to find Richard continue, the eyes and ears of ordinary members of the public will be essential tools in our search.’
The Metropolitan Police added they are keeping an ‘open mind’ about the disappearance, while repeating an appeal for anyone with information to come forward.
The search continues today after Det Supt Gosling told the BBC there had been ‘no activity on his phone that we are aware of,’ since the 19-year-old’s disappearance.
Detective Chief Inspector Nicki Beecher, from the from the Met’s Area West Public Protection Unit, said: ‘It has now been nine days since Richard was last seen in person and we remain as committed as ever to locating him and bringing him home to his family.
The 19-year-old Oxford Brookes University student was spotted on CCTV walking alone on Smarts Lane, Loughton towards Epping Forest at 12.39am on March 23
Following the discovery of CCTV footage showing Richard in Loughton, police descended on Epping Forest on April 1, and remain there today
Det Insp Groom said the search ‘strikes a chord’ with him, as the officer also has a teenage son
Prior to his disappearance, Richard Okorogheye, who has sickle cell disease, had been shielding during the Covid-19 pandemic and would only leave the house to go to the hospital for his regular blood transfusions
Specialist search teams, horses and dogs began searching Epping Forest on Wednesday night
‘Our officers are working extremely hard to piece together the facts in order to build a picture of Richard’s movements on the evening of Monday, 22 March.
‘Latest information suggests he was last seen in Loughton in Essex and we are now focusing our attention here with specialist search officers from across the Met brought in to assist.
‘Our enquiries also continue in the Ladbroke Grove, W10 area where local officers have been carrying out search patrols and also community patrols to gather information from local residents.
‘I would once again like to renew our appeal to the public for any information which may assist with our enquiries. If you may have seen Richard – particularly in the Loughton area – or have any information at all, please contact police.’
The Met said Mr Okorogheye, who was in his first year of a business and IT degree at Oxford Brookes, left his home and headed in the direction of Ladbroke Grove on March 22 at approximately 8.30pm.
Richard’s mother last saw her son on March 22 when he told her he was going to a friend’s house. Police are searching Epping Forest today
Officers have been carrying out door-to-door enquiries and searches of the area after the student was spotted on the residential street (GV of the street pictured)
The Metropolitan Police said the 19-year-old (pictured) left his home and headed in the direction of Ladbroke Grove on March 22
He was seen boarding the 23 southbound bus in Ladbroke Grove at 8.44pm and CCTV footage showed the student wearing an all-black outfit and carrying across his lower back a black satchel-bag featuring a white Adidas logo.
What is sickle cell disease?
Sickle cell disease is the umbrella term for a group of inherited conditions that severely affect red blood cells.
Around 15,000 people in the UK are sufferers and it is particularly common in people of African or Caribbean descent.
Healthy red blood cells – produced by stem cells within bone marrow – are biconcaved discs that can bend and flex easily.
However, in those with sickle cell disease, faulty stem cells produce red blood cells that are crescent shaped.
They are rigid, unable to squeeze through smaller blood vessels and prone to causing blockages that deprive parts of the body of oxygen.
Sufferers are not expected to live beyond 60 and treatment mainly focuses on alleviating symptoms, such as pain and infections, through blood transfusions and painkillers.
Police said it was unknown at which stop Mr Okorogheye got off the bus.
Mr Okorogheye’s mother, Evidence Joel, previously said her son had spoken of ‘struggling to cope’ with university pressures.
She also said her son, who has sickle cell disease, had been shielding during the Covid-19 pandemic and would only leave the house to go to the hospital for his regular blood transfusions.
In a new statement on Tuesday, 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.’
Ms Joel last saw her son on March 22 when he told her he was going to a friend’s house.
She had returned home from a nursing shift at around 9pm and assumed her son was in his room.
The alarm was raised after a locksmith helped her gain entry to her son’s room where the student’s wallet, bus pass and bank card were found.
This week Ms Joel claimed police said ‘if you can’t find your son, how do you expect us to?’ when she went to them for help.
Ms Joel, a nurse, said when she phoned police to report her son missing and suggested they check CCTV near their home she was told they did not have the resources.
She told Sky News: ‘I told a police officer that my son was missing, please help me find him, and she said: ‘If you can’t find your son, how do you expect police officers to find your son for you?’
Mr Okorogheye was seen boarding the 23 southbound bus in Ladbroke Grove at 8.44pm on March 22
CCTV footage showed the student wearing an all-black outfit and carrying across his lower back a black satchel-bag featuring a white Adidas logo
Family friend Claudine Rose added: ‘We just felt like initially, it wasn’t taken seriously enough.
‘His mum was going into the police station every day and they hadn’t put posters up or anything.’
Anyone with information is asked to call police on 101 quoting 21MIS008134, or they can call 999 in an emergency.