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'Awful mistake' Mother granted license to exhume girl drowned by father in Cork double tragedy

"After nine years I will be able to correct my awful mistake"


Pictured: Clarissa

Pictured: Clarissa

Pictured: Clarissa

A young American woman whose Irish husband drowned their three-year-old daughter and then himself said she is "thrilled" to have been granted an exhumation license to remove her daughter's body from her husband's grave.

Rebecca Saunders launched a special appeal last year to raise funds to help her bring her daughter, Clarissa, from Ireland to the US for reburial.

That appeal attracted enormous support for the American mother.

Today, she confirmed that she has received an exhumation license.

"Thrilling news! Today I was granted the license to exhume Clarissa!


Rebecca pictured with her daughter, Clarissa

Rebecca pictured with her daughter, Clarissa

Rebecca pictured with her daughter, Clarissa

"After nine years I will be able to correct my awful mistake! Can’t wait to be able to take Rissa home! This has really been a long time coming. It’s a day for celebration," Rebecca posted on 'Clarissa's Cause', an account set up to support the exhumation campaign for her daughter.

"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."

The 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.

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.

She now wants to have the body of her daughter exhumed from west Cork and returned to Texas where she now lives.

She said that Clarissa is "an angel" who is now looking over her two young daughters.

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"I am deeply grateful for the support and all the love and warmth I have been shown since sharing my story," she said.

She acknowledged that she faced major hurdles ahead - including potentially having to hire solicitors if legal proceedings are required to facilitate the exhumation.

But the young mother said she was determined to undo "this awful mistake" by having her little Clarissa brought to the US.

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.

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."

All 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.

She said 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 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.

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