Tributes to best pals Chris O'Neill and Declan McKenna killed in crash fireball
A COMMUNITY has rallied around two families who lost their sons in a tragic car crash over the weekend and the goodwill of people has "shone through" according to a local MLA.
Friends Christopher O'Neill and Declan McKenna died when their BMW car went out of control just outside the village of Kilrea in the early hours of Saturday morning.
It slammed into a tree and burst into flames.
Both victims had connections with Northern Ireland's main nationalist political parties.
Christopher was a rising figure in Sinn Fein and chairman of its Kilrea branch. He stood unsuccessfully for a seat on Coleraine Borough Council in the 2011 local government elections.
His grandfather John Davey, who survived Michael Stone's attack at Milltown Cemetery in 1988, was a Sinn Fein councillor before he was murdered by loyalists in 1989.
Declan's uncle, Noel McKenna, was a former SDLP mayor of Derry City.
It's believed the friends, best mates since their school days at St Paul's College, Kilrea, were returning home from a night out when the fatal crash occurred just yards from their family homes.
SDLP Assembly member John Dallat said the community was stunned and shocked by the horrific deaths but had rallied to support both families.
He said: "The Kilrea community is very close-knit and this has brought everything to a complete standstill.
"It has hit the community very hard, but everyone has rallied to offer prayers. The goodwill of the people has shone through in this time of crisis."
Christopher's mother Maria and sister Ciara were again grieving the death of a loved one after their husband and father Kevin died of cancer almost a year to the day before Christopher's tragic death.
Hours earlier Christopher had marked the first anniversary of his father's death with a moving tribute on Facebook.
'God has you in his keeping/We have you in our heart... RIP Daddy', he wrote.
Plumber Declan had a love of vintage tractors and enjoyed working on them and restoring them.
His neighbours described him as a "wee gentleman". "When he walked up the street he would never pass you without saying 'hello' and asking how you were," said one.
"His parents Marion and Martin and his two elder brothers will be devastated – we all are."
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness offered his condolences to both families and said he was "deeply shocked".
DUP MLA for East Londonderry Adrian McQuillan also offered his sympathies to both families. SDLP councillor for the area, Roisin Loftus, also paid her respects.