Belfast Telegraph

Grieving Co Down dad tells of shock at finding his 'princess' dead in the family kitchen

By Victoria Leonard

The grief-stricken parents of a young woman who died a month before her 30th birthday have paid an emotional tribute to their "beautiful" daughter.

Sherry Campbell from Groomsport in Co Down, a special needs teaching assistant at Strangford College, choked to death.

Sherry, an only child, was found dead in the kitchen of her family home by her father Shannon at around 4am on Thursday morning.

He made the discovery after getting up and finding the lights on throughout the house.

He initially thought that Sherry had fallen asleep on the sofa while watching TV, before being confronted by the tragedy.

"It was a sight I will never forget", the grieving dad told the Belfast Telegraph.

"I knew that something was wrong as all the lights were on when I got up to go to the toilet, but I just thought she had fallen asleep on the settee, as she had been watching TV when we went on up to bed.

"But there she was on the kitchen floor. We called 999, but I knew she was dead. She was cold.

"There was a bit of steak sitting out, so she must have popped it into her mouth and it went down the wrong way. We got the coroner's report over the phone on Friday morning and they said she had died by choking.

"It was terribly bad luck, a terrible shock, and it has been a complete and utter nightmare.

"Sherry's 30th birthday would have been on October 12, and she had been planning a birthday party in the Royal Ulster Yacht Club in Bangor."

Sherry, a former Strangford College pupil, had studied Travel and Tourism at Bangor Tech, then worked at Next in Bangor before returning to Strangford College to take up her "dream job" five years ago.

She was following in the footsteps of her mum Fionuala, who is also a special needs teaching assistant at the school.

Bereft Fionuala continued: "She loved working there with me, we travelled together and came home together every day and she was working with teachers who had taught her as a child - it was a wonderful community school. She had always wanted to work as a special needs teaching assistant. She loved working with children, and she had grown up seeing me do that job.

"You have no idea how proud we were of her.

"She was kind and sometimes she gave too much, but she said that it was better to do that than not. She was so highly thought of at Strangford College, the staff are distraught and the school have had to bring in counsellors. It's a difficult time for the whole school community - everyone is in shock.

"We have had a lot of flowers and tributes since her death, which gives me some comfort.

"I would like her to be remembered as the most caring, loving, thoughtful, inspirational, kind person you could ever have come across." Close family friend Margaret Cooper said that Sherry's death had "ripped the heart out of her family and the community."

"I knew Sherry all her life, I saw her grow from when she was a baby to a young woman who was bubbly, bright, beautiful and kindhearted," she said. "My daughter and Sherry used to play together as children, now she is helping to organise Sherry's funeral.

"She had her whole life ahead of her - she loved her job, she was taking driving lessons, she loved going shopping and going to work with her mum and going on holiday with her parents.

"She lived in the family home and she was the apple of their eye, their princess - her daddy always said, 'You're my little princess'.

"She always had a smile on her face. She was a bonny, bonny girl."

Strangford College will close at noon next Wednesday to allow grieving pupils to form a guard of honour at Sherry's funeral, where Fionuala hopes that staff who taught her daughter as a child will sing and deliver the eulogy.

Sherry's funeral will begin at 2pm in St Comgall's Church on Bangor's Brunswick Road. She will be buried beside her grandparents at Edgewater, outside Millisle. Strangford College principal Mark Weir paid tribute to a "much loved and valued" member of the school community, and said counsellors were on site at the school for pupils needing support.

He stated: "It is with great sadness that I have to tell you of the sudden death of Ms Sherry Campbell, a much loved and valued member of our school community. Sherry was a teaching and learning assistant, and a former student of Strangford College."

He added: "We have a number of counsellors on site, to support our students. As I have intimated, we are deeply saddened by this great loss, however we are trying for the students' sake to keep the college environment as normal as possible.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with Sherry's family at this difficult time and all in the college community send them our sincere sympathy, love and support."

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