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Jack Glenn's grieving family keep vigil at river's edge, desperate to bring their beloved son's remains back home

Distraught parents deeply touched by overwhelming public support as search for young man's body enters its second week

By Donna Deeney

Seven days ago, Colin and Hester Glenn's world fell apart after they received a phone call telling them their son, Jack (23), had entered the freezing waters of Londonderry's River Foyle.

A popular and much-loved young man, as well as a talented cricketer and footballer, it seemed Jack had everything to live for.

Now his distraught parents and their daughter are spending their days along the Foyle's embankments in a desperate bid to find Jack's remains.

Katie, Jack's younger sister, said her that while her beloved brother had lost his job a few weeks ago, she had no idea how much pain he was in.

The family works from makeshift camp in a field that sweeps down to the River Foyle below the bridge, but they are far from alone.

The search for Jack's body has brought out hundreds of people - the vast majority of them total strangers to the Glenn family.

As the city pulls together in an incredible outpouring of sympathy, the banks of the river are thronged with people wearing high-visibility jackets and warm clothes and clutching binoculars, all looking for the young man.

Tents provided by the local offer shelter and somewhere for the volunteers to get a warm drink or a hot bowl of donated stew.

Two disused oil drums have become makeshift campfires, where wood gathered in ever-increasing amounts is burned to give some respite from the biting wind that prevails at the river's edge.

Temporary toilets and lights have appeared without a word - anything that can be done to help the devastated family.

The huge influx of people, who come from right across the city and beyond every day, started after a friend of the family appealed on social media for the public to come and help the family, using the hashtag #GetJackBack.

Jack's dad, Colin, a lorry driver for the health service, said his son was the first-born of that generation, the first grandchild - and everybody loved him.

"He was spoiled rotten by everyone and was always the blue-eyed boy," he explained. "No matter where he went, he was always smiling - his gorgeous white teeth and big blue eyes.

"He was just stunning and he was so funny. He just lit up the whole room when he walked in.

"Jack did well at school. He got nine GCSEs at Foyle and sports-wise he was just unbelievable - really talented from an early age.

"From he was 10 years old we used to take him to tennis tournaments, but the school he went to was a rugby and cricket school.

"He excelled at those too. He had trials for the Ulster junior team, but his main sport at school was cricket, and one of the proudest moments of my life was when the school won the School's Cup for the first time in years and he got 96 runs.

"He also played for Ireland's under-15, under-16s and under-17 teams, but then he reached the stage where he lost interest in cricket.

"He still played a lot of football and was goalkeeper for Institute. Declan Devine, the former manager of Derry City, told me Jack could go to England to play football.

"He could have been famous for any one of these sports.

"He is famous today, but for all the wrong reasons, unfortunately."

Jack's mother, Hester, a care assistant, said the family would be forever grateful for the support, help and prayers of everyone.

She added: "I got a call from Colin just after 3pm and he was just squealing and roaring down the phone, 'Jack's dead, Jack's dead', and I don't know what happened after that. I think I fainted.

"The first couple of days I was in a complete daze. It was awful - I couldn't believe it. Without the support of everybody, our families, both Colin's family and my family, we could not keep going.

"A lady said to me the other night, 'Your son is a legend because he hasn't just brought this city together, he has brought the world together.'

"I am actually getting messages from Kenya, America and Wales - they are just praying for him everywhere and that is what keeps me going.

"I have moments of crying. I read all the messages about him, look at all the photographs of him and I cry, sometimes for a solid couple of hours.

"I think at times too it's not true. I am standing here below the Foyle Bridge, beside the river and my son, my Jack, is in there. But I can't get that into my brain at times.

"I know every mother thinks their child is special, but Jack really was so special.

"He had such a caring nature and he worked for a while as a carer and he was so good at it that all the old people took to him.

"He had the kind of personality that people were drawn to. I don't know how I am going to deal with the next part of it, but I am keeping going and our daughter, Katie, is just a star. She has this belief that Jack is in Heaven and is happy.

"Right now, we are taking each day and each minute of the day as it comes - it's all we can do.

"It's unbelievable the way this city has come together for us. Every night at 6pm up at the Peace Bridge, there is a candlelit vigil. It is Catholics that do it - they gather and say the Rosary.

"It's not our religion, but it is so beautiful. We stand with them and they give us so much comfort with the prayers and we get total, total comfort.

"I go home at night with my pockets stuffed with Rosary beads, holy water and prayers and I really appreciate all of it. We all do."

As well as the spiritual help, people are offering practical help, as Jack's sister Katie explained. "People are coming from everywhere and they are so, so good," she said.

"They bring food, breakfast, lunch and dinner and everything else in between, here and at the Peace Bridge.

"We have had people coming from Armagh, Newry, Portadown, and there is one couple who have driven here every day from Carndonagh. Then there is George, a man we never met before, who has not left our sides.

"There is a friend of mummy's who, rather than celebrate her 50th birthday, she and her friends spent the day helping us look for Jack. There are so many stories like that.

"People say to us, 'I don't know what to say to you', but we don't know what to say to them either.

"All we can say is, 'Thank you, thank you for coming to help us, from the bottom of our hearts.'"

Katie added that Jack was more than her big brother.

"He was my best friend too, but we didn't know he was feeling so low," she explained.

"He lost his job just before Christmas and I know he was down about that, but we had no idea he was in as much pain.

"I never thought this would come to our door, but it has and we are devastated."

During their darkest moments, the family recall the happy times they had with Jack and how he filled every room he went into with sunshine with his smile.

Dad Colin remembered the moment his life changed for ever last week.

"I was in Omagh when my brother phoned me about 2.30pm. He asked me, 'Have you heard from Jack today?'

"I told him that I had phoned Jack earlier, but that he didn't answer, then I asked him, 'Why, what is wrong?'"

His brother said Wayne - Colin's nephew - had received a worrying message to say Jack had been seen in the Foyle.

"I didn't know what to think... I just kept saying, 'No, this can't be right'," Colin said.

"I had actually heard on the news earlier that someone had entered the water, but the last thing I ever would have thought was it might be Jack.

"I drove into Strabane and met another health service lorry with two drivers and one was my friend from work, Paddy. I told him, 'My son is in the water'.

"He drove me back to my mother and father's house, and when I got up there a policeman was standing there.

"I said to him, 'Is it true?' He said, 'Unfortunately it is'."

If you or someone you know is in distress or despair, call Lifeline on 0808 808 8000. This is a confidential service, where trained counsellors will listen and help immediately. The helpline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week

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