Parents of tragic river death boy Kayden Fleck in moving tribute to their ‘happy-go-lucky’ son
The heartbroken parents of a five-year-old boy who died in hospital after falling into a Co Antrim river have paid a moving tribute to their "happy-go-lucky" son "who just melted your heart".
Leanne and Darrel Fleck were speaking just hours after they lost their son Kayden - whom they described as "your average wee boy" - in what is believed to have been an awful accident.
The tragedy, which occurred exactly a fortnight after his mum and dad got married, is understood to have unfolded when Kayden and twin brother Jayden were playing by the River Braid in Ballymena, near the Ecos Centre.
Kayden, a pupil at Harryville Primary School, accidentally fell into the icy cold, fast-flowing water near Skye Park at around 1pm on Saturday and was swept more than four miles downstream.
The Belfast Telegraph understands that it was dad Darrel who raised the alarm after he'd gone looking for the twins, who were thought to have been playing in a park near the Flecks' old family home in Ballykeel 2.
A major rescue operation was launched immediately and, after an extensive search, Kayden was recovered from the river near Tullygarley Bridge some two hours later.
He was airlifted to hospital, where he later died.
Devastated Mr and Mrs Fleck, who said they affectionately called the twin boys "the two musketeers", also have an older son Daniel (14) and a daughter Amelia, who is three.
The distraught family circle were last night being comforted by relatives and close friends at the house of Leanne's sister Samantha in Orkney Drive, also in Ballykeel 2 in the Co Antrim town.
Mr and Mrs Fleck and their four children had lived in the housing estate up until a week ago, but had moved to a new home in the nearby village of Cullybackey.
A neighbour, who saw the twins in the street on Saturday morning shortly before tragedy struck, said the community was reeling from shock over the child's death.
"The boys were never out of their mummy and daddy's sight; they never went out on their own, so it's a mystery what happened," she said.
The results of a post-mortem are expected today.
It is understood that the body will be returned to Kayden's godmother Samantha McGowan's home, where the blinds remained closed all day yesterday.
Expressing her sorrow on Facebook, Miss McGowan said she will never forget the precious moments she and her nephew shared together.
"My heart is torn. I don't know how I am ever gonna have the strength to say goodbye wee man," she wrote.
"But I will treasure our memories forever.
"I will never forget the fun times we had together, also the times you sometimes did my head in.
"You were one of my closest ever nephews.
"Not only my nephew, but my godson.
"I love you baby boy.
"I will see you again someday wee man.
"Sleep tight baby we all love you and life will never be the same. xx"
In a statement issued by the PSNI on behalf of the family last night, Darrel and Leanne described their "happy-go-lucky" son as "your average wee boy" who "just melted your heart".
The statement added: "The family want to thank each of the agencies who were involved in the search and rescue operation yesterday, and say they are grateful for the community support they have received since."
A message on Twitter from Harryville Primary School read: "School will be open on Monday and Tuesday from 12noon until 6pm to allow anyone from Harryville, Ballykeel and wider areas to come and sign a book of condolence for Kayden and his family.
"There will also be a donation box and tea/coffee available."
Sean McCarry, regional commander of the Community Rescue Service, said it was "a major search operation in very, very difficult conditions".
"Despite valiant efforts by rescuers from PSNI, the Community Rescue Service and NIFRS, the child was carried a considerable distance downstream in the river which was moving extremely fast," said Mr McCarry, who was recently involved in the Cave Hill search for missing Belfast man Michael Cullen.
"Once we located the child we were able to pull him from the water very quickly."
The search operation began near the Ecos Centre, a nature park off the Broughshane Road, around 1pm on Saturday.
It involved police, firefighters, the Ambulance Service and Community Rescue Service volunteers. The Ambulance Service said it dispatched the air ambulance, an A&E crew and a doctor to the scene.
It confirmed that the child was recovered from the water and was flown by the helicopter to the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children.
The boy travelled more than four miles along the river from the point where he entered the water to the point where he was pulled out.