Two friends — Russell McAfee (60) and Nigel McGraw (53) — found dead in a Coleraine flat on Monday have been described as being the type of men who would have “invited anybody in for a drink”.
The pair were commonly known around the Ballysally area as being “completely harmless”, according to one local person who wishes to remain unnamed.
The men’s bodies were discovered in Mr McAfee’s downstairs flat in the Elms Park estate by Mr McGraw’s father, who is in his 70s.
The causes of death are still to be confirmed by the coroner, but police have announced that although the men died suddenly, their deaths are not being treated as suspicious.
The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) said they had been called to the property at about 2.37pm on Monday.
Two fire engines from the Coleraine station attended, while firefighters wore hazmat equipment when entering the residence, usually worn for protection against potentially hazardous chemicals or gases.
However, at this time there has been no official confirmation of evidence of gas leaks or carbon monoxide poisoning within the property, and a PSNI spokesperson also stated that officers “are satisfied that there is no immediate risk to the public”.
Residents within the community told the Belfast Telegraph that Mr McGraw, who is originally from the village of Garvagh, was well known as being “best mates” with Mr McAfee, and they would regularly be seen together.
“When his dad couldn’t find him [Nigel] in his wee house in the other estate, he knew exactly where he would be. The door was open, it wasn’t locked,” said local PUP councillor, Russell Watton.
“Russell was lying face down dead, and his son was lying on his side, also dead.”
The friends had supposedly been making plans to attend the Rangers vs Dundee football match in the Gers’ home stadium of Ibrox in Glasgow this weekend.
“They would have done most of their drinking in the house,” added an anonymous source.
“They would have had neighbours in the previous weeks, and would’ve said, ‘Come on in and have a couple of beers and watch the match’.
“One neighbour that was in [the flat] with them last week was in absolute bits, devastated when he heard. You would have never had a bit of bother with them, from the day and hour Russell moved in there. They got on with everybody in the estate surely.”
Mr Watton said: “It’s a major tragedy for this estate and it’s a very close-knit estate in here.
“My deepest sympathy goes out to all the family circles. I know the families and it’s an absolute tragedy for this area.”
DUP MLA Maurice Bradley said he was stunned and saddened by the “heart-breaking news coming in the mouth of Christmas”.
He also paid tribute to the emergency services “who once alerted, were quickly on the scene and have begun investigations into the tragedy”.
“Until those investigations are complete, the cause of this tragedy will not be known. I am sure that the good people of Ballysally will rally round as a community and offer “support at this very difficult time,” said the East Londonderry politician.
Mayor of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council Richard Holmes also sent his “thoughts and prayers” to the men’s family members and friends.
“The news which emerged from the Ballysally area of the town on Monday afternoon has left two families mourning the loss of their loved one, and an entire community in shock at these unexpected deaths,” he said.
“At this very sad time, my thoughts and prayers are with the men’s family members, friends and neighbours as they come to terms with what has happened.
“I hope they find strength from each other in the days and weeks ahead.
Other politicians within the area passed on their “deepest condolences” and “sympathies” too, including independent MLA Claire Sugden, UUP councillor Darryl Wilson and SDLP MLA Cara Hunter, who shared online: “The local community will be stunned following this incident and my thoughts also go out to them after this distressing ordeal.”