Body of Cork toddler drowned by father exhumed as mum brings remains home to US
Clarissa McCarthy (3) and her father, Martin, who took her life in a shocking murder-suicide, were buried in a shared coffin in March 2013
The body of a little girl drowned nine years ago by her father was exhumed in west Cork today and will now be brought to the United States by her heartbroken mother.
Tight security surrounded the exhumation of Clarissa McCarthy (3) at Schull cemetery as her mother, Rebecca Saunders, is now preparing to bring her little girl's remains to the United States for reburial.
Clarissa and her father, Martin McCarthy, were buried in a shared coffin in March 2013.
A special team attended the cemetery before 5am to conduct the exhumation.
The two bodies will be separated, under the supervision of a forensic scientist and a specialist undertaking team, and Clarissa's remains will then be cremated and prepared for return to the US with her mother.
The exhumation followed an appeal last year by Rebecca which raised €42,000 towards the cost of exhumation and bringing Clarissa's body to the US.
"After nine years I will be able to correct my awful mistake," Rebecca said.
"I cannot wait to be able to take ‘Rissa’ home. This has really been a long time coming."
While Rebecca said it was a day for celebration after a long campaign, it was also a terrible reminder of the awful ordeal she had been put through in March 2013.
She said being able to bring Clarissa's body to the US would have been impossible without the public support she received.
"A heartfelt thank you to everyone who has helped to shape this into reality. You’ve no idea what this means to me and my family."
Rebecca said over recent days she had "a good cry brought on by hormones and exhaustion."
She said she will never forget how "Clarissa's beautiful smile is simply stunning."
At four days old Clarissa spent four weeks in Cork University Maternity Hospital (CUMH). "My baby was a fighter."
Rebecca said Clarissa's birthday was in May: "Soon we will be able to celebrate her coming home to me (in the US). I cannot wait. You (Clarissa) are always on my mind and forever in my heart."
The exhumation license was granted by Cork Co Council last March.
"Cork Co Council has granted an exhumation licence. The council has no further comment to make outside of this," a spokesperson said.
Rebecca, a California native, was 26 years old when her husband Martin McCarthy (50) drowned their daughter Clarissa (3) at Audley Cove in west Cork on March 5 2013.
Mr McCarthy's body was also recovered from the sea. Three days later, the father and daughter were buried together in a single coffin after a Requiem Mass at St Mary's Church in Schull.
Rebecca launched a campaign last year to have the body of her daughter exhumed from west Cork and brought to Texas where she will be reburied close to where Rebecca now lives.
Her appeal attracted enormous support for the American mother both in Ireland and overseas.
Rebecca said that Cork County Council had signalled early this year that they were satisfied with submissions received in support of the exhumation request.
That included submissions from forensic anthropologist Dr René Gapert.
She said that she believes Clarissa is "an angel" who is now looking over her and her two young daughters.
"I am deeply grateful for the support and all the love and warmth I have been shown since sharing my story," she said.
Rebecca said she was absolutely overwhelmed by the support for her appeal to have the remains of her child exhumed and brought to the US for reburial.
She reached the €42,000 target ($50,000) fundraising target with days of the appeal being launched last year thanks to the incredible public reaction to her hard-hitting appearance on RTE's 'Claire Byrne Live' show.
She was interviewed from home in Houston, Texas - and outlined the shocking details of the March 5 2013 tragedy in which her husband killed her daughter and then himself.
The young mother vowed she would not rest until she could undo "this awful mistake" by having her little Clarissa brought to the US.
In a suicide note left for Rebecca, Mr McCarthy wrote that: "If you can take Clarissa to America I can take Clarissa to Heaven.”
He also vowed that it would be a day his wife would never forget.
“You can now get on with the rest of your life as mine and Clarissa's is about to end. By the time you will get to read this letter I and Clarissa will be in Heaven. You did not realise how much I loved you – I could not see my daughter being raised up by a step father,” he wrote.
Rebecca revealed the shocking contents of the note as she explained how she wanted to raise funds to have Clarissa's remains exhumed and brought to the US.
Donations flooded in to her Clarissa's Cause GoFundMe appeal following the RTE interview - with almost €37,000 being donated in just 48 hours.
Rebecca explained that nine years ago "in a fog of grief and shock" she permitted her daughter Clarissa to be buried "with the father she loved but who took her life from her."
Rebecca insisted that, had she been given extra time in March 2013 to consider her position, she would not have allowed her daughter to be buried with the person who took her innocent young life.
"I really can't say that I feel I will ever be able to forgive him. I feel like he used his daughter as a sword to stab me in the heart with. And I think that is very, very wrong," she said.
"Clarissa and her father died on a Tuesday and they were buried on a Friday. In that small space of time I had to decide what happened to this little girl who was my world."
"The first thought that struck me in the shock that I was in was that I didn't want her to be alone."
However, in the weeks and months after the burial, she realised the extent to which her husband had planned the tragic events.
"The totality of the steps he took to ensure that if it wasn't that day he had the steps in place to carry out his end game another day."
She later learned her husband had gone to a family court to ensure his daughter wouldn't be allowed to leave the country without his express permission.
"He got a restriction put on her passport. If I wanted to leave the country with Clarissa I couldn't have done that."
"The way his will was written it makes it very clear to me he had planned what he was going to do as a punishment to me."
The pair met when she was a teenager studying in Ireland and he helped her with a farm study project.
Both later began a relationship despite the fact there was a 24 year age difference involved.
They married in 2006 and Clarissa was born in May 2009.
Within months, the marriage was under strain. She said her husband was obsessed with his farming work and legal rows he was involved in over land.
The young mother said she and her daughter were increasingly forgotten about - and she eventually brought up the subject of divorce.
On the night of the tragedy, she was going to meet someone for legal advice.
"He became extremely angry and bitter. It was really sad to see Clarissa have to witness her father withdraw into himself.”
The alarm was raised when she returned to their isolated farm and there was no sign of her husband or daughter.
Fears mounted when a note left by Mr McCarthy was found in the milking parlour and a huge search operation located both bodies in the sea off Audley Cove.
Rebecca has now remarried and has two children. But she has never forgotten Clarissa.
"Some days are worse than others. Really accepting that it is never going to leave me. If it left me that would mean I would forget that little girl and that would be the worst thing."
A Cork Coroner's Court inquest in 2014 heard both father and daughter drowned.
All donated funds not used in the process of exhuming Clarissa and bringing her remains to the US will be split between Edel House in Cork which supports victims of domestic violence and Cork University Maternity Hospital Neonatal Unit.
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