Jerry Thompson's heartbroken mother pays tribute to tragic son - 'He was our hero'
The mother of a young Belfast footballer who took his own life has paid an emotional tribute to her son and called on those struggling with their mental health to seek help.
Carrick Rangers player Gerard 'Jerry' Thompson (24), also known as Jerry to his friends, died suddenly this week.
He had been due to start with his team against Glenavon on Tuesday night but instead his club announced the shocking news after the match, prompting a wave of support from the sporting community.
A doting father to his seven-month-old son Thiago with partner Samantha, Gerard had been looking forward to Christmas and had already picked out matching father-and-son tracksuits, according to his family.
Speaking from the family home in north Belfast, his mother Leanne Thompson (39) said the devastated family were still searching for answers.
"He was just our hero, we're just going to miss him something serious. He loved us, he loved his girlfriend and we just don't understand why he did this," she told the Belfast Telegraph.
"He was doing so well in his football. He scored goals, he set goals up and that's all my Gerard lived for was his football. It's hard because we know that's what he wanted, he got it and then he goes and does this. It was just like a split second, whatever it is came over his head and he was gone."
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Ms Thompson said her son had always been able to manage the "ups and downs" of life before but kept things to himself.
"He was kind, he was generous, he would have done anything for anybody," she said.
"His wee boy just meant everything to him, that's why we can't understand why he did this.
"If anybody is thinking about doing something like this at all they need to speak to people, let people know what's going through their heads. Not just doing something like this. My son kept everything to himself, he never spoke about anything.
"It was very hard to get things out of him but if we were going through anything he was always there for us, trying to pull us together as a family. He said he would never do this and leave his son. I just don't know what came over him in that split hour."
The popular young footballer is also survived by his father Gerard Shiels (40), grandmother Bernie Shiels and younger sisters Chantelle Shiels (21) and Aisling Shiels (9).
Chantelle said her older brother was always "putting on a front of being happy", even if something was bothering him.
"Obviously his mental health wasn't the best. Obviously he didn't do it to hurt us, but if someone is going through things like that it does also hurt the family," she said.
"I used to say to him about people out there doing it. It's all over for them but it's what they're leaving behind. What are we meant to do now that he's not here?"
Ms Thompson said the day before Gerard had died he had taken his son for a picture with Santa and proudly displayed it when he came home.
"He was out buying his child matching Christmas clothes and a wee silver Mercedes car with a remote control so he could steer it," she said.
"He was just looking forward to things like that so much which is why I can't understand it.
"We lived our life going to watch him play football every Saturday or on the TV. He was just always happy.
"If he came in the house and saw anyone of us crying he would have broke down. His daddy had taken heart attacks before and Gerard used to say, 'How can we bury my daddy?' But now I'm burying him. It's just horrible."
Sharing her own tribute on social media, his partner Samantha Storey thanked the many offering their support to the family.
"I just want to thank each and every person that has sent me a message I just can't even get through to them all, this is all just one big dream and all we can do is be there for one another.
"All Jerry would want for our son is for me to be a strong mother and I will try my best to pull this all together for our baby boy I promise."
Her brother Gerard Storey, who plays for Portsmouth FC, added: "You were loved and will be missed by everyone. I will do everything I can to look after Samantha and Thiago and help him become the footballer that you always wanted him to be."
A funeral mass for Mr Thompson will be held on Saturday at 9am in Belfast at Sacred Heart Parish.