Belfast Telegraph

John Paul Smyth's death is a massive blow, he had great prospects, says school principal after tragedy

John Paul Smyth was a pupil at St Paul’s, Bessbrook
John Paul Smyth was a pupil at St Paul’s, Bessbrook
Claire McNeilly

By Claire McNeilly

A fifteen-year-old schoolboy who is believed to have died in a tragic drowning accident was "a wonderful child with great prospects", his school principal has said.

The body of John Paul Smyth, who went missing on New Year's Eve in Warrenpoint, was recovered from the water on Saturday after a five-day search involving community search and rescue teams.

The teenager, known as JP, was a pupil at St Paul's High School, Bessbrook, where the oratory was open on Sunday afternoon for pupils, their families and members of staff who wished to gather and remember JP.

Although the cause of death has not been officially confirmed, the school said that the Year 12 pupil's death in the Co Down town was "tragic and accidental".

It is the second time the school has had to deal with the tragic loss of a pupil in three years after 14-year-old Patrick Quinn from Camlough passed away suddenly in September 2016.

Principal Jarlath Burns, who knew JP well, said his death was "a huge blow that has been felt profoundly among the teaching staff at the school, particularly those who had a close relationship with him".

"It is a very sad day for all of us," Mr Burns said.

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"JP was easy to teach.

"He was very focused.

"He had a lot of mentors in school.

"JP's death for us is a massive, massive blow."

Mr Burns said JP "was a very quiet fellow" who, after a difficult upbringing, had attended St Paul's since Year 8, and was "achieving", "which is why this loss is so profound for all of us". "JP knew where he was going in life now," he said.

"School was going well for him. He trusted us.

"He had dealt with a lot of stuff and he was working hard. He was resilient.

"JP endeared himself to staff because he was a very vulnerable child and we had him on a very bespoke curriculum, which was very focused on his needs.

"Our staff were exceptionally perceptive in responding to his needs; that is why they are so distraught because they knew he was blossoming in school.

"He was so modest, so self-effacing and he constantly needed reassurance in school and he got it from the staff.

"He was making genuine progress. He was pursuing a particular career path in the catering industry.

"He was on work experience at a local restaurant a couple of days a week and he was doing great work with them."

JP, who lived with a foster family, was doing GCSEs and vocational studies including Preparation for Adult Life and with The Prince's Trust.

He was also doing work experience at the local Shelbourne Restaurant in Newry a couple of days a week.

"JP was being given a chance and he took it with both hands and repaid the faith that they had in him," Mr Burns said.

The headmaster said the school was open on Sunday because "in times of sadness, and of joy, it's very important for us to come together and to be there".

Local councillor Jarlath Tinnelly said he understood that JP's death had been a tragic accident and paid tribute to everyone involved in the search.

"This tragedy has struck a chord with everyone in the area and we all hoped that he would be found alive," said Mr Tinnelly.

"JP was only a child.

"For his family this is the worst outcome and it has come at a sad and tragic time when people are usually starting to look forward to a new year."

Support will be offered to pupils affected by JP's death when they return to school on Monday to help them deal with the tragedy.

"My understanding is that he fell into the water," Mr Burns said.

"I will be telling pupils in school that JP died as the result of a very tragic accident as opposed to anything else."

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