When Diana Boland thinks about her missing boys coming home, it starts with a call from Adam, the oldest.
“And he’ll say, ‘Hi Mom, it’s me … it’s me, Ad,’ and then it’s just overjoy.”
Boland now goes by her maiden name, but people will remember her as Diana O’Brien, the mother whose three sons were allegedly abducted by their father, Gary O’Brien, on Nov. 9, 1996.
During an interview earlier this week, Boland spoke openly about her boys, her ex-husband and her 15-year ordeal.
She is unwavering in her belief that Adam, Trevor and Mitchell — her only children, ages 14, 11 and four when they were taken away — are alive and will be part of her life again.
“I’m looking forward to being a grandma,” she says with a confident smile.
Ask her why she thinks none of her sons has contacted her, Boland says she gets asked that a lot and has given it much thought.
Her conclusion is that O’Brien took the boys to some sort of religious commune.
“If he’s on that kind of a compound, there’s no computers, no news. That’s the only answer I can possibly come up with.”
Before vanishing with the boys, O’Brien had jerry-rigged two 400-pound propane tanks to explode at the family’s Torbay home. (The couple had separated and Boland was then living in Mount Pearl.)
The engine assembly of his 1989 Ford Tempo was found in the waters off Red Head Cliff, near Flatrock, 11 months after the disappearance.
Boland has said rigging the propane tanks and sending the car over the cliff were done to mislead the police.
She says O’Brien was a resourceful, intelligent man and she knows what he’s capable of doing.
That’s why she doesn’t put the idea of the religious compound past him. She feels he’d look for such a place and be content to stay there.
“Gary doesn’t have to be in touch with the outside world at all.”
Boland said O’Brien had control over the boys and they would have done what he wanted.
She’s also convinced people close to her ex have information about the disappearance and her sons.
Boland’s life was in ruins when her boys were taken from her. She says she shut the world out.
“I was totally numb, totally numb. I didn’t care about anything or anyone.”
The healing took years.
She says she had to learn to cope or die.
The first step was reaching out, and Boland says that wasn’t easy.
She sought professional help, and realized she had to release the bitterness.
“It was eating me up. I had to let go of the guilt of not being there to protect my sons, and then I had to let Gary O’Brien own it — turn it over to him. He’s the person responsible for ruining the lives of his children and ruining my life. Accept it Gary, you’ve done it.”
Organizations focused on missing children have played a role in her recovery. Boland got involved, and remains active, in a number of them.
“Any society out there who would help me and take me by the hand and lead me through this, I accept. I accept.”
She also gets the benefit of assisting people who’ve experienced similar trauma.
“It’s mostly with other parents, who are searching parents like myself. We cry with each and hold one another. … That’s very helpful to me as a searching parent, to be in touch with someone who is feeling what I’m feeling.”
Christy Dzikowicz is the director of missingkids.ca, a program of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection.
Boland was part of the organization’s launch in May and has “done a lot,” Dzikowicz says.
“Because we see in her the kind of hope and resilience that we continue to fight for. It just gives us such encouragement to see a mom who could live through that type of tragedy, who could be so strong and believe so much that she’s going to get those answers.”
Boland says the desire to see her sons again keeps her focused.
“In order to do that, I have to stay healthy in body, soul and mind, so I had to learn how to do that.”
Boland recently finished an interior design course and works for a flooring company. She appears to be moving forward and says she’s able to laugh and enjoy life.
“I feel fine now. I’m great now. I’m back to where I was before (the abduction).”
Still, she wants her boys — and hopefully her boys’ children — in the next stage of her life.
Boland says while some may think it’s time to put it to rest, that’s not going to happen.
“Once you’re a parent, you will be one until the day you die, and no matter what could happen in my life I will always be looking for my sons.”
Dzikowicz suggests people who ask why Boland hasn’t moved past that haven’t walked in her shoes.
Though she’s living a healthy, happy life, in many ways Boland doesn’t get to move on, she explained.
“There’s a balance that had to be struck there and I think that’s something that’s she’s been able to do really well, with some of the wonderful people she has in her life.”
Boland prays for her sons every morning and evening. She claims she’s not a religious person, but she did have a spiritual encounter that she gathers strength from.
She prefers not to share the details, saying, “It’s not something that everybody would understand.”
She keeps her boys’ personal belongings as well as media coverage of their disappearance, and other items, in a trunk at her home.
She says when Adam, Trevor and Mitchell return, she wants to show them the truth and then lead a life that doesn’t dwell on the past.
For now, she admits opening the trunk is difficult.
“From time to time I like to go down there and I like to feel (their presence). And yeah, I cry. But you know? That’s good. There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s just getting in touch with yourself and who you really are as a parent.”
In Boland’s vision of her sons’ return, what happens after Adam’s phone call takes place at the airport.
“And I see Gary O’Brien coming in handcuffs and the police are with him.”
There’s been a warrant out for O’Brien’s arrest since he disappeared.
Police agencies have received hundreds of tips and the story was covered by the high-profile U.S. TV programs “American’s Most Wanted” and “The Montel Williams Show.”
Police have also offered a $50,000 reward.
New tips still come in from time to time (see sidebar).
Whenever Boland learns the police have received a new lead, she prays it could be the one.
But she’s OK when it doesn’t pan out.
“I have to be. What choice do I have?”
Dzikowicz thinks someone must know something about what happened.
“And they, maybe, are at the right time in their life to come forward and share that and say, ‘Enough is enough, I need to give this woman some information that’s going to help or I need to give the police some information that’s going to help bring some answers.’ ”
Boland suggests the public can help, too.
“Have hope like me,” she says. “Be positive like me. I take a lot of strength in staying positive and I do believe in miracles happening, and I believe I’m due one.”