The teenager missing after he jumped into a river to rescue his dog has been described as a “loving young fella” by his father.
The search is continuing for James Elliott (14) who has not been seen since Thursday afternoon when he went into the River Bush near his home in Stranocum.
Taking a brief rest from the search for the schoolboy, his devastated family last night told the Belfast Telegraph they have not given up hope of finding him alive and said they have found the support of friends and the emergency services a great source of strength during their wait for news.
His father, Clive, said: “It's a reassurance at this terrible time. It doesn't seem real. It isn't real.
“He is a loving young fella, a very kind kid. We're not giving up hope. We have to live in hope.”
A cousin of the Dalriada School pupil, 18-year-old Johnny Elliott, said: “He's a special kid. We all love him. He's full of energy, always happy, always smiling, just taking the positives out of everything.
“He's brilliant at football and words can't describe how much we want him back again. We're still hoping and praying we will see him again, and we will do.”
And an uncle of the schoolboy, Nial Elliott, also paid tribute to his nephew.
“He's a very happy-go-lucky child who lived life to the full.
“He has a very good circle of friends, is hard-working and once he puts his mind to something he would do it.
“The family would like to express utmost thanks to the Fire and Rescue Service, Coastguard, PSNI, ambulance personnel, inland lifeboats, specialist dog teams and rescue teams who have come from Ireland to help.
“We'd also like to thank the local community who have helped with the search and the people who have provided refreshments. The support has been out of this world.”
Family members gathered in Stranocum as soon as news of the accident broke, with some driving through the night from England to offer their support and help in the search operation.
They have helped the emergency services comb the area around the River Bush for signs of James, even searching nearby fields in case he managed to get out of the river and tried to return home.
A police helicopter hovered above the river last night as the family returned to the scene, still clinging to the hope that James will be found alive.
A flotilla of boats, canoes and jetskis took to the River Bush yesterday in search of James.
Villagers lined the bridge leading into Stranocum throughout yesterday’s search efforts, watching the waters in silent vigil as they waited for news.
It is understood that the river was unusually swollen following a spate of heavy rain and the tragic incident took place at a spot that was once a popular swimming area known locally as the Carry.
Tom Skelton, headmaster of Dalriada School where James was a pupil, said his family were struggling to cope with the tragedy.
“I was devastated when I heard about it. I visited his parents this afternoon and they are struggling to come to terms with it,” he said.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with them. As a parent myself I try to empathise with what it’s like but it’s your worst fear.”
James was a talented student and athlete whose ambition was to become a professional footballer, Mr Skelton said.
“I was delighted when he was chosen to represent Ballymoney in the Foyle Cup,” he said.
“He was a very lively pupil and was held in high esteem with the students as well. His ambition was to be a professional footballer and the caretaker told me today he had to climb up on the roof every other day to get the ball down for James.”