The distraught family of Michaella McCollum Connolly fear she was set up by a ruthless drugs gang.
The 20-year-old nightclub hostess faces 25 years in a Peruvian prison after she was accused of a part in trying to smuggle $2.3 million worth of cocaine.
Her heartbroken mother, Nora Connolly, has told of her agony at learning her daughter was locked up in Peru facing serious drugs charges.
Nora clutched her rosary beads at her home in Dungannon, Co. Tyrone, and fought back tears as she told the Irish Sunday Mirror “We don’t know the full facts. We are still waiting to hear them.”
She confirmed she has spoken to her daughter by telephone but didn’t want to discuss the details of the conversation.
She would only add: “We have been speaking to Michaella. It’s a very difficult time. We hadn’t heard from her in 12 days and now this.”
An unnamed family friend told the paper that Michaella, a photography student in Belfast, would never knowingly involve herself in a drug ring.
She told the paper: “Her family are in a state of shock. They can’t understand what has happened. They didn’t even know she was in South America. They just know that Michaella is an innocent pawn in all of this. She must have been set up.”
Irish embassy officials in Brazil confirmed they have spoken by phone with Michaella in prison in Peru, a week after she was reported missing from Ibiza.
It is understood that she has also been visited by British diplomats based in Peru, along with the 19-year-old British woman she was arrested with, Melissa Reid.
Michaella went to the Spanish island of Ibiza in June to work in a night-club during her Summer holidays from her course as a photography student in a Belfast College.
A social media campaign was launched for her when her regular phone contact with her family ceased and there was no activity on her Facebook.
Eventually, it was discovered she was arrested with Melissa Reid at Lima Airport as they prepared to board a flight for Madrid.
Police, who still hold them in custody, said they were carrying more than 11 kilos of cocaine between them.
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