Cookstown hotel tragedy pupils and teachers united in grief at service to remember victims
A principal whose pupils were caught up in the Greenvale Hotel tragedy has said it has left the community in a state of numbness, shock and disbelief.
Mrs Isabel Russell, head teacher of Holy Trinity College in Cookstown was speaking to hundreds of her pupils who had gathered at a special church service in the town yesterday.
The students were joined by pupils from Cookstown High and St Mary's Grammar School in Magherafelt.
The service was held in Holy Trinity Church less than 24 hours after students from two Dungannon schools gathered in prayer for their three friends who died in the crush outside a hotel disco on Sunday evening.
Morgan Barnard (17) and 16-year-old Connor Currie both attended St Patrick's Academy in Dungannon, while Lauren Bullock (17), was a pupil at sister school St Patrick's College.
At Holy Trinity yesterday, students gathered in solidarity with the Dungannon community.
On behalf of staff and students, Mrs Russell extended their heartfelt sympathies to the teenagers' families.
She said what should have been a evening of enjoyment for young people had descended into unimaginable loss.
"It should have been a night of enjoyment as we celebrated our national saint, St Patrick," she explained.
"But instead it was a night of disbelief, shock and numbness as we learned of the deaths of the three students."
The principal continued: "They probably didn't have a care in the world and looking forward to a night out with their friends.
"I am sure there are so many questions that everyone would like answered. Why did this happen?
"Why did God allow three young people to taken away so tragically? But we don't have the answers."
She then revealed that a number of her own students who were there as the horrifying events on Sunday night unfolded were still struggling to come to terms with the tragic event.
"Some of them relayed their experiences to us yesterday afternoon," revealed Mrs Russell.
"We listened, we gave them time to talk. We allowed them time to discuss their thoughts and feelings.
"And we will continue to support them in the days ahead."
Urging prayers for the emergency services personnel who tended to the injured, she said former students who left the college a year ago, had also helped at the hotel.
"I am very proud that some past pupils were there to assist and do whatever was possible," she said.
She then pleaded with the young people to take care of themselves on nights out, particularly in large groups. "Take care of each other," she urged.
Mrs Russell then directly addressed pupils who had been directly affected to come forward and seek help.
"If you need to speak to anyone let us know," she added.
"We won't have all the answers but we will do our best to support you."
In a poignant moment three white candles were lit by students - each one representing the devastating loss of their peers.
Students, may of whom were tearful throughout the service, bowed their heads for a moment's silence.
Fr Laurence Boyle told the students that they had "united in grief" for the service.
He also welcomed staff members of Greenvale Hotel and community leaders to the service.
"We are united through this tragedy," he added.
"This is a time of great shock and grief for our community, the families of those teenagers who lost their lives."
He said on St Patrick's night "tragedy came to Cookstown" which had brought "panic, and then a silence" which had fallen over the town.
"Yesterday, silence befell the whole community," he said.
"No words but silence, no words we can use.
"Today at Cookstown, where this tragedy happened, we too have fallen into silence."
The priest stressed, however, that silence is also prayer, and he urged the young people to think of Morgan, Lauren and Connor in their own prayers.
He added the community would continue to grapple with what had happened.
"We pray for those who have died, the families and those who have suffered loss and for this tragic event," he added.