Cookstown tragedy: Every parent’s worst nightmare
‘At one stage there was 10 people, maybe more, on top of each other’
Catherine McHugh, principal of St Patrick’s College, Dungannon, pays tribute to student Lauren Bullock who died at the Greenvale Hotel in Cookstown, Co Tyrone. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Shortly before 10.30pm on St Patrick’s night the PSNI put out a Facebook post warning of a major incident. It urged parents of teenagers attending the disco in the Greenvale Hotel in Cookstown to get into the town to collect their children “immediately”.
It was every parent’s worst nightmare as they anxiously tried to contact their children who, about an hour earlier, had experienced the horror of what was supposed to be a holiday occasion.
Parents who hadn’t already been contacted were frantically trying to phone their children, with those hundreds of teenagers who survived the night also attempting to call home. Social media was awash with details about what had unfolded.
Hundreds of students were involved in a crush as they tried to get into the Greenvale Hotel disco – a tragedy that left three young people dead: 17-year old Lauren Bullock, and two boys, Connor Currie aged 16 and, and Morgan Barnard, aged 17.
A 16-year-old girl is in a stable condition in hospital. Two other teenagers were treated for injuries they received during the incident.
The principal of St Patrick’s College, Catherine McHugh where Lauren Bullock was a student described her as “a beautiful girl, a shining light in our school community”.
An emotional prayer service was held on Monday afternoon at St Patrick’s Academy for its students Connor Currie and Morgan Barnard. It was attended by up to 300 students, many of whom had been on the scene in Cookstown.
On Monday the entrance to the hotel remained sealed off while there was a continuing police presence at the scene.
The incident was reported to the emergency services shortly before 9.30pm.
Kyra Coyle, a 17-year-old from Stewartstown was in the line of teenagers waiting to get into the event when the crush started.
“I was caught in the crush but then I managed to push my way out of the road to get out,” she said. “I looked and at one stage there was 10 people, maybe more, on top of each other with one girl screaming to them to get off their friend. It just got worse with people at the back of the line just pushing to the front. It was awful.”
She said she did not know what caused the initial crush. “Everybody just sort of messes around in the line, trying to get forward,” she said.
The mother of two teenage boys who were in the queue to enter the hotel has spoken of her terror as she tried to establish their whereabouts.
Emma Heatherington said she “felt sick” when she learned on social media that parents were being asked to come to the hotel to collect their children.
She told RTÉ’s One O’Clock news she eventually made contact with her sons by mobile phone and although they were “quite traumatised”, they were safe.
“They were in the queue and there was some commotion at front and they were asked to step back. Before long the police were on the scene and ambulance were on the scene and it was frantic.
“It was all very quick, very bad, very crazy and surreal. They don’t know what happened. My youngest boy, Adam, he saw a boy on the ground and saw the ambulance crew trying to resuscitate him. It turned out the boy was from his year in school so as you can imagine that was extremely traumatic for him to witness.”
Ms Heatherington told of phoning one son who was at a nearby McDonald’s fast food restaurant, and he was fine, but “he just said ‘Mummy it is not good’ and then he got cut off. I finally got through to the older brother and he was okay, he was on the way home. The sound of the door opening was a relief.”
The PSNI is trying to work out how the incident happened, and have appealed for anyone with information or camera or smartphone footage of the tragedy to bring it to the police.
The owner of the Greenvale Hotel, Michael McElhatton, was advised by police not to speak to the media apart from making a brief statement outside his hotel on Monday evening.
His hands shaking as he read the statement, he said he was “deeply shocked and saddened by the traumatic events” and that his management and staff were assisting police in their investigations
“We offer our heartfelt sympathies to the families and friends of the three young people who have lost their lives,” he said.