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Cloughmills horror crash: They were often seen smiling and holding hands on their way to school...yesterday it was a journey that ended in tragedy

The horror of the crash scene was almost unimaginable. A pram lay on its side and tiny school belongings by the road.

Beside them a badly damaged red car, its windscreen smashed.

The conditions at the time of the crash were said to be awful - dark with heavy downpours.

No footpaths or street lighting line the route, which local people described as "treacherous".

One of the first to arrive after the collision involving the woman and her six children said she will be forever haunted by what she encountered.

"I haven't stopped crying since," she said. "I'll never forget it.

"People were just running around trying to help the wee children. I saw a youngster in a pushchair, she seemed to be OK. Another woman arrived and just burst into tears.

"The mum was crying and had blood on her face. It was chaos."

All around the tiny village just outside Ballymena people were devastated by the tragedy.

While many said they didn't personally know the Gilmours, they all knew of them, such was the charm of the young siblings who waved at passers-by every morning.

Neighbours said they saw the family walk the route on a daily basis, and said they were usually seen "all smiling and holding hands".

The winding country road they took on their walk for the school bus leads into the heart of Cloughmills.

Adam Gilmour his siblings and their mum knew the road well.

And she was all too aware of the risks it posed to her precious young family, urging education chiefs to fund transport along the half-mile route from their home to where the children got their bus to Clough Primary School in the next village.

Correspondence to an MLA and the local education board was tragically prophetic; the mother revealed she was terrified that her children would be "wiped out" on the stretch if transport was not laid on urgently.

The principal of Clough Primary was too distraught to speak publicly yesterday.

Five of the six youngsters are believed to be pupils.

The siblings' classmates appeared to have been sent home for the day following the awful news.

The collision happened close to a bend on the Loughill Road shortly after 8.30am. The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service sent four ambulances, a rapid response paramedic and an officer to the scene.

Residents living nearby said it was a known danger spot.

"I used to take the dogs along it but the traffic was too quick," a nearby homeowner said.

Ballymoney mayor Bill Kennedy cried when he saw the aftermath.

He said: "It's terrible news to come to any family, where we have a young mother walking some of her children to primary school this morning.

"This is absolutely horrendous news to hit anywhere."

Police remained throughout yesterday as forensic officers searched the scene for clues as to what had caused the fatal crash. Above, a police helicopter surveyed the area.

PSNI Chief Inspector Stephen McCauley said the rural community had been left devastated.

He said it was too early to speculate on the circumstances leading up to the collision. "This is hugely impactive on the community and I can only imagine what the wider family circle are going through at this time," he said.

He added: "It is too early to comment on the circumstances pertaining to this particular collision.

"However, I am clear about the principal causes of the most serious road traffic collisions on our roads. Inattention, speed - or more accurately, excessive speed for the conditions - and drink or drug-driving all lead to deaths on our roads.

"I ask everyone to take stock today and slow down. Please make the right decisions when you are on the road.

"That is whether you are a driver, a pedestrian, a cyclist or a motorcyclist."

Social Development Minister Mervyn Storey, an MLA for the area, added: "Cloughmills is a small, tightly-knit community and I know there will be a huge sense of shock there today.

"My thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected, particularly those who are in such a serious condition in hospital."

The family home was in darkness last night with relatives at the bedsides of the children and their mother.

Belfast Telegraph