“It is a truly awful incident, heart-wrenching for everybody, particularly the families,” is how PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton described the tragedy that befell the young of Cookstown on St Patrick's evening as they gathered for a disco at the town's Greenvale Hotel.
It is the dreaded news for any parent. The knock at the door, or the alert from the police to get to a destination quickly to, if they are lucky, pick up their children.
Morgan Barnard and Lauren Bullock, both 17 and 16-year-old Connor Currie all died, crushed to death in what has been described as a stampede. Not even the age to vote or legally consume alcohol, lives snatched from them before they tasted adulthood.I was only ever in Cookstown once in my life. It is inseparable in my mind from an old and close friend whom I spent time with in the H Blocks, although he lives outside the town these days. These situations invariably arrive with the uncomfortable awareness that in seeking pass over for our friends, it is inevitably passed onto others whose loss is no less real.
On Sunday night, my teenage daughter headed off to Dublin for a concert with her boyfriend. She has been in Dublin a lot. I even had her working alongside me for a couple of days last summer so that she could pick up a few quid. She is at that age where the old Abba disco song, Money, Money, Money, is well rehearsed and loudly renditioned. The parents of the dead teens of Cookstown would dearly love to trade the silence of their children for the sound of importuning.
This was her first late night in Dublin on her own steam. Just turned 18 she has come of age and makes her own decisions. The world is for growing up in and the only way to grow up in it is to go out into it. As parents we didn’t expect anything untoward to happen. Still, when we heard the small hours key in the door, sleep came much more easily after that. The nagging thought is always there. Many years ago my mother told me that she never enjoyed her children after the death of my sister. From that point on she just worried too much about their safety.
Eimear Tallon in a harrowing account of events outside the hotel wrote the following on her Facebook page:
Unfortunately, a friend of mine who I had seen in the line and chatted to minutes beforehand has died. Morgan and the two other angels, just like the rest of us, left their families last night for an enjoyable night out but unlike the rest of us, they didn’t make it home. My heart breaks for their poor families.
There is no sugar coating what happened last night. As it got serious, we banged the windows of the hotel and tried to get help. The people inside simply looked away. While this was happening the gates were still locked and the bouncers were no help. If it wasn’t for the young people doing the right thing and ringing the police, the situation could’ve been so much worse.
The truth is, this could’ve been prevented.
Moving from distraught to determined, the presence of mind coupled to the composure required to pull it all together so shortly after an incident in which she could easily have lost her own life, Ms Tallon's description is nothing short of remarkable.
No one set out to cause Sunday evening's terrible event. Nevertheless, Eimear Tallon’s call for no sugar coating and her insistence that this was a preventable tragedy is very telling. If people did what they should not have done, or failed to do what they should have done, if they were of no help when they could have been, or looked away from children they should have been looking out for, the families of the three teenagers deserve to know. They sent their children out to dance not to die.