Belfast Telegraph

‘Caoimhin was still alive when fire started, so how did the others get out? ... No one has come forward to tell us’

Great-uncle of teen killed in car blaze tells of the questions that haunt family

Caoimhin Cassidy
Caoimhin Cassidy
Floral tributes at the spot where Caoimhin died
Police at the scene of the incident
Appeal: Charles Tierney
Leona O'Neill

By Leona O'Neill

The great-uncle of a teenager whose body was found in a burning car in a Londonderry housing estate says the family are "heartbroken and shocked beyond belief" at what happened to him.

He has called on those who were in the car with his great-nephew Caoimhin Cassidy (18) to come forward, let the family know what happened and end their pain.

At just after 4am on Saturday, firefighters discovered Caoimhin's body in the passenger seat of a red Mazda car which was ablaze in the Galliagh estate.

The vehicle, which crashed in the Galliagh Park area, had earlier been stolen in the Rosemount area of the city.

Charlie 'Nucker' Tierney (72) said that Caoimhin had been in trouble in the past but had "turned his life around in the past year".

"Caoimhin was just a quiet big fella," he said.

"He and his sister lived with his granny Margaret, my sister, in Creggan Heights. She just doted on him. She spoiled him. She is absolutely devastated and distraught by his death.

"We just knew over the weekend that it was his body in the car because he was a young man who would have come home every day to his granny's house to get fed and showered and get himself sorted.

"And when he didn't come home on Friday we knew that something wasn't right, although we didn't get it confirmed until Tuesday.

"His granny looked after him so well and he was just mad about her. He was her blue-eyed boy. He never needed for anything with her around. He had the best of everything because of her.

"He was so quiet, even with me in the street. He would just stop and say hello and I'd have to ask him if everything was all right with him. I had helped him a year or so ago when he had been in a bit of bother and he always thanked me for that. That was the kind of young fella he was. He never forgot."

Mr Tierney urged those who were travelling in the stolen car with Caoimhin on the night he died to come forward and "put us out of our misery".

"I am appealing to anyone who was in the car with Caoimhin or anyone who saw what happened to let the family know," he said. "If they don't feel comfortable going to the police, go to a priest or a community activist that you feel confident talking to, or to me and let me know what happened that night.

"We need to know what went on that evening. Put us out of our misery.

"When the police came yesterday and told us that Caoimhin was still alive when the car went on fire, his mother and sister had to run from the room crying and that is totally understandable.

"Caoimhin's body came home to his granny's house yesterday and it is a closed coffin.

"His mother wanted to have it opened, but she was told that it couldn't be. She couldn't see her son. And I didn't want my sister to see him like that. It would have just been too much."

Mr Tierney said that the family are still in shock over the death.

"His granny is absolutely devastated," he said. "His granny had him spoilt. All her money went on him. He was the apple of her eye. His granny is very much in shock and traumatised. She is comforted a bit by seeing his body come home.

"We were living in a hellish limbo there for a few days when he was missing and we didn't know if it was him or not. It was absolute torture. She is more content now that he is home."

Mr Tierney said that his great-nephew had been in trouble a number of years ago, but said that he had seemed to be turning a corner.

"Caoimhin was in a bit of bother a few years back but he had turned his life around this past year," he said.

"He has been a different young fella since then.

"He has always been quiet. It's no use me saying that he hung around in bad company, because they can all be bad company when they get together. I'm not blaming anyone else for what happened. When they all get together there is nothing you can do about it. Even though he shouldn't have been in the car, he wasn't sent out by his family to steal it. And the family feels it bad, really bad.

"They feel awful that the people in the car with him that night never came anywhere near them to tell them what happened. That they left them.

"Caoimhin was in the passenger seat of the car. How did the driver get out, and the passengers in the back seat?

"Caoimhin was still alive when the car went on fire. Why did that happen? Until we find the full facts out, we won't get any closure."

Mr Tierney said that the family's grief had been compounded by cruel comments made online about Caoimhin.

"The family are very hurt by the things that people are writing online," he said. "My sister wouldn't necessarily be on social media, but Caoimhin's young cousins are and they are very hurt by what people are writing. They have been taking it very bad.

"There were a few very nasty people commenting, saying really hurtful things. I saw one comment that said 'there wasn't enough of them dead'.

"I wouldn't even comment back and I told the youngsters not to look at their phones. It really just compounds the hurt.

"I would ask people to consider his granny and his family, who are beyond devastated by what has happened, before writing anything. But I doubt people will listen to me."

Caoimhin's funeral will take place at St Mary's Church in Creggan's Fanad Drive tomorrow at noon.

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