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Childlock prevented Ballymena fire victim Brooke Reid McMaster (12) escape, says grandfather

Distraught grandad tells of trapped schoolgirl's desperate attempts to save herself as blaze engulfed home


Tragedy: Brooke Reid McMaster

Tragedy: Brooke Reid McMaster

Tributes left for Brooke at the scene of the Ballykeel house fire.

Tributes left for Brooke at the scene of the Ballykeel house fire.

Tragedy: Brooke Reid McMaster

The grandfather of house fire victim Brooke Reid McMaster has told of the 12-year-old schoolgirl's frantic attempts to escape from her upstairs bedroom as horrified and helpless neighbours looked on from the street below.

Billy McMaster (59) said "nothing will ever be the same again" for his eldest daughter Martha, Brooke's heartbroken mother, who told how the death of her precious child had "ripped the heart out" of her,

Brooke perished after becoming trapped in her blazing Ballykeel 2 estate home in Ballymena on Wednesday evening.

Investigations are continuing into the cause of the fire but Mr McMaster told the Belfast Telegraph that one of the most heartbreaking aspects of the tragedy was his desperate granddaughter being unable to flee the flames.

"She was screaming for help and trying to get out," he said.

"The big bedroom window was double glazed and fitted with a childlock so she couldn't break it, and she was too big to escape through the small window.

"There were four or five people trying to break down the front door, while Martha's partner was upstairs trying to get in to her room."

Martha McMaster, who has three older children, had been visiting her sister Christine in Ahoghill village, several miles away, at the time of the blaze.


Brooke's mother Martha at Thursday night’s vigil in Ballykeel

Brooke's mother Martha at Thursday night’s vigil in Ballykeel

Photopress Belfast

Brooke's mother Martha at Thursday night’s vigil in Ballykeel

"I came home, the police and fire brigade were there. It was like something out of a movie. It's so surreal, there aren't any words to even describe it," she told UTV.

"She was very much my life."

Martha's partner was subsequently taken to hospital suffering the effects of the blaze but Brooke, a second year student at Dunclug College, was pronounced dead at the scene.

A post mortem examination was due to take place today.

"I'm trying to be strong for everyone, especially Martha," said Mr McMaster.

"I know there are a lot of hard days ahead of us. Nothing on this earth can be worse than losing a child. It's just a nightmare.

"Brooke was very close to me. She was granda's girl. She was very bubbly.

"She loved her friends, she loved her school and enjoyed Sunday School too. She adored her mother and loved the rest of her family."

Mr McMaster, who lives 100 yards away from his eldest daughter's home in the Ballykeel 2 estate, revealed that a friend had contacted him at home to tell him Martha's house was on fire.

"Nobody knows what went wrong," he said.

"Brooke was always changing the furniture about in her room - if she'd been doing that maybe the door was blocked and she couldn't get out.

"We just don't know what happened - and that makes it harder for us to get our heads around it."

As she fought back tears, Martha said: "I've already buried a child and now I have to bury another one: something no mum should ever have to do."

She added: "I'd like people to remember her for her outgoing personality and how well mannered she was and how talented she was."

Mr McMaster explained that Brooke is the third grandchild he has lost, and he said that the family has been beset by tragedy several times in the past.


Devastated: Billy McMaster said the family has been beset by several tragedies

Devastated: Billy McMaster said the family has been beset by several tragedies

Colm Lenghan/Pacemaker Press

Devastated: Billy McMaster said the family has been beset by several tragedies

"Martha lost a little boy, Brooklyn, who was stillborn 12 or 13 years ago, and my younger daughter Christine lost her first son, Travis, two weeks before he was due to be born.

"I also lost my first son to a cot death when he was just seven days old, and my 18-year-old nephew Stuart, a soldier, was killed when a parachute jump went wrong."

Billy recalled the last time he saw his beloved granddaughter, who he said had toyed with the idea of becoming "a hairdresser or a vet" when she eventually left school.

"Brooke popped in to our house on Tuesday to say hello before her supper," he said.

"She was telling me about school and she seemed very happy. She left with a big smile on her face from one ear to the other.

"A big part of my life is fun and games with my grandchildren and I remember how I used to keep Brooke going about the coloured leggings she used to wear.

"I would tease her and ask her what she was doing wearing the bathroom curtains... but that's all gone now.

"Nothing is ever going to be the same again."

Dunclug College principal Ruth Wilson offered the school's "heartfelt sympathies" to Brooke's family.

"The staff and pupils of Dunclug College record deep sorrow on the tragic death of their beloved pupil, Brooke Reid, in Year 9, and send support and prayers to her grieving parents and family circle," she said.

Independent councillor Rodney Quigley, who is a friend of the family, said the schoolgirl's death had "totally devastated the local community".

"The family are well-respected in the area," he told the Belfast Telegraph. People tried to get in to help her but they were beaten back by the smoke and the fumes.

"It was awful.

"Everyone is just devastated. This part of the town has had its fair share of tragedies in recent times and we have been brought to our knees by grief.

"Our thoughts and sympathies are with Brooke's family."


Flowers left at the fire-damaged home

Flowers left at the fire-damaged home

Photopress Belfast

Flowers left at the fire-damaged home

Ballykeel Pentecostal Church Pastor Tom Todd told the Belfast Telegraph that he knew Brooke well as she was a member of the Campaigners group, a children's organisation based at his church.

"She was quite a quiet, polite, pleasant, friendly good girl," the pastor said.

"She seemed to be a happy child, who had a lot of friends, and we never had any problems with her.

"The family and our whole community are in a total state of shock and mourning."

Members of amateur football club Harryville Homers paid their respects to Brooke's father on social media. "The players and officials would like to pass on our sincerest sympathy to committee member Geoff Reid after his daughter Brooke sadly passed away in a tragic accident," they said in a Twitter post.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with Geoff, Martha and the entire family circles at this very sad and difficult time."

PSNI Chief Inspector William Calderwood said that the cause of fire has not yet been determined and will be subject to investigation, with the NI Fire and Rescue Service.

A vigil in memory of Brooke took place in the Ballykeel 2 estate tonight between 5.45pm and 6pm, which is the time Mr Reid said the family believe they lost the year 9 pupil.

There are no funeral arrangements as yet.

A GoFundMe page set up to raise money to help the family had exceeded more than double its £1,000 target by tonight.

Belfast Telegraph