Poignant service marks family's year of pain since Jamie Burns drug death
One year to the day after north Belfast man Jamie Burns (23) lost his life to drugs, his family hosted an emotional service of remembrance in St Anne's Cathedral.
The cross-community event was attended by over 200 people and open to all who had lost a loved one through drugs, mental illness and suicide.
The young man's father and sister, William and Gemma Burns, both gave heartfelt readings during the service before individual balloons were released outside to symbolise lost lives.
Since his son's death, Mr Burns has championed the 'one pill will kill' initiative and last night unveiled a new hard-hitting Christmas campaign.
"With the closing of my son's eyes, the eyes of others have been opened with awareness," he said.
"Sharing my story hasn't been easy but it gives me strength knowing that other lives have been saved."
The campaign highlighted shocking figures, noting that 98 people died in Northern Ireland through drug misuse in 2016 - 30 more than those killed on the roads.
Ross Hull and Adam Irwin, both 23, were close friends of Jamie Burns and often enjoyed going to Rangers and Liverpool matches together.
"It's been very hard for us all," said Adam. "A lot of things have changed in the last year, usually Jamie was the one getting us together and going out. So we've seen the effect it's had on his family and close friends.
"The campaign really needs to hit home because there's too many young people losing their lives to drugs."
Ross added: "It's good for everyone to come together to promote the message. I've heard people talking about the one pill campaign. It's a credit to the tireless work Bill puts in to promoting it and speaking to different youth groups."
Canon Mark Niblock, Dean's Vicar of St Anne's, led the service with contributions from Fr Gary Donegan, formerly of Holy Cross Church in Ardoyne, and Pastor Brian Madden.
"One year on, Jamie's loss is as raw today as it was on the day he died," Canon Niblock said. "His family are still living with the huge gap Jamie's death has left, and yet their courage, dignity and integrity have won admiration and respect from all of us. Characteristically they want this service to be inclusive and a source of help for others."