"You are our superhero" -- Emotional words from parents of missing Calgary boy
Jennifer and Rod O'Brien, parents of five-year-old Nathan O'Brien, stand at a press conference at the Calgary Police Service's Westwinds office in Calgary, Alta., on Wednesday, July 2, 2014. Lyle Aspinall/Calgary Sun/QMI Agency
If only it was make believe — but the tears, trembling words and haunted eyes make it all too clear that this is as real is it gets for the parents of Nathan O’Brien.
Despite a wall of lenses, microphones and pens scribbling every strained syllable, Rod and Jennifer are alone with Nathan, speaking to him directly in hopes one of the cameras is somehow connecting to their boy, wherever he is.
“Nathan, your mom and dad, Luke, Maximus, and your whole family loves you to every star and back,” says Rod, fighting to make the words come out.
“Nathan, you are our superhero right now and we’re going to bring you home very soon. Nathan, God is taking care of your soul, and mom and dad need you to be brave right now.”
It’s an agonizingly private moment shared at a public press conference, marking the first time family has spoken openly since Nathan and his grandparents, Kathryn and Alvin Liknes, disappeared.
They just want Nathan to not be scared — and so they talk to him directly, as two terrified parents to a little boy they desperately want to comfort, using references their five-year-old would understand the best.
No parent could ever imagine their son’s passion for Superman and all the other comic-book characters would ever be more than an innocent fad, part of a typical happy childhood filled with adventure stories and make-believe.
But with Nathan and his grandparents gone, taken away in a mysterious abduction case that has police baffled, superheroes are suddenly something this mom and dad need their son to believe in.
If there’s one thing Superman can teach a five-year-old, it’s how to be brave.
“He went everywhere forever in costume — I think he actually thinks he is Superman,” says Jennifer, when asked to describe her son.
“We didn’t even buy him clothes, we bought him costumes because he loved to dress up. That’s why we refer to him as our superhero, because we know he’s strong.”
Rod and Jennifer are trying very hard to be brave too.
In one hand, dad is holding a paper butterfly Nathan made, while mom is gripping a blue t-shirt, one she brought for Nathan to wear the morning he and his grandparents were reported missing.
Their other hands are gripped tightly together in support.
Jennifer tells reporters they need their son to hear their voices, just in case he’s listening or watching.
“Nathan, I need you to hear my voice right now and I need you to know that Mommy and Daddy love you more than anything in this world,” she says.
“Stay strong, Nathan, stay strong.”
And at this point, with few clues, no leads and no suspect, words are all they can offer Nathan.
The boy was last seen Sunday night, after a long day at his grandparents Parkhill home, where a weekend moving sale was underway.
Apparently, Nathan had a blast, helping grandma as she showed strangers around and sold furnishings — and so, at the end of the day, Jennifer told her son he could sleep over.
She returned to her parents’ home at 10 a.m. Monday, but there was no one home — and there were signs they didn’t leave voluntarily.
Police were called, and eight hours later, an Amber Alert was called.
On Thursday, 48 hours later, there’s nothing to go on — and so the parents go public, asking for help.
Behind them, as the O’Briens speak to media and answer questions, stand a dozen family members.
They’re a collective mess too, barely able to hold their composure as Rod and Jennifer tell reporters what they can about their happy, brave son, and the grandparents who adored him.
But they’re a wall of support for the O’Briens, tears and all.
“We have amazing support from family — they’ve never left our side,” says Jennifer.
On Twitter: @SUNMichaelPlatt