Belfast Telegraph

So much to live for - Police plea as probe into Tyrone hotel crush tragedy begins

PSNI sets up major incident room at arts centre as detectives study CCTV and call for witnesses and video footage of incident

A police forensic officer outside the Greenvale Hotel
A police forensic officer outside the Greenvale Hotel
Hotel owner Michael McElhatton speaks to the media
Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

A major police investigation has been launched into the tragic deaths of three teenagers at the Greenvale Hotel in Cookstown on Sunday night.

Lauren Bullock (17) from Donaghmore; Morgan Barnard, also 17, from Dungannon, and 16-year-old Connor Currie from Edendork were killed in a crush outside a disco.

The death of Morgan is the second St Patrick's Day tragedy to hit the family. The young man's great-uncle Patrick Barnard was just 13 when a UVF bomb exploded at the Hillcrest Bar in Dungannon on March 17, 1976, killing him and three other people.

A 16-year-old girl was in a stable condition in hospital last night, while two other teenagers were treated for injuries suffered during the incident.

Several hundred people were trying to get into the venue after being dropped off by buses.

Police investigations are pointing towards a crush at the door which resulted in some people falling. Officers said people struggled to get off the ground and there was confusion in the immediate aftermath between 9pm and 10pm.

In a post on social media, Eimear Tallon (17) from Armagh said the incident had "started with pushing" but then the "literal crushing started".

She added: "I was hysterically screaming for people to move.

"With more and more pushing, I also fell. But the thing about me was that I wasn't on the ground, I was on top of someone, and this person was on top of someone else.

"As I looked down I could see multiple bodies underneath me and as I looked up I could see multiple bodies on top of me.

"It was the most traumatic, frightening and stressful moment of my life."

Also waiting to get in to the venue was Kyra Coyle (17) from Stewartstown, who said: "Everybody was just shoving and pushing trying to get in.

"It was disgusting for me to experience, for me to see that.

Morgan Barnard
Morgan Barnard

"I just think everybody just wanted to get inside and drink."

Detectives from the PSNI's Major Investigation Team (MIT) have set up a dedicated room at the Burnavon Arts Centre in Cookstown where witnesses can go and speak to police.

Security camera footage is being examined and police have appealed for videos captured by those present.

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said the specialist team of detectives assigned to the inquiry "will seek to establish the full circumstances of this dreadful incident".

He added: "This will be an extensive investigation with potentially hundreds of witnesses, many of whom are teenagers.

"The community will understand that this investigation will rightly be painstaking and detailed.

Connor Currie
Connor Currie

"We will proceed in a sensitive manner and our enquiries are likely to take some time to complete.

"I thank the Cookstown and wider community in advance for their patience and support.

"I would urge young people who were present at the Greenvale last night to please get in touch with MIT detectives. We need to know what you saw."

Lauren Bullock
Lauren Bullock

The senior officer said he could understand that there may be some reluctance to contact police by those who were at the event but underage, but added "please do not be concerned".

"We are investigating the deaths of three young people, young people just like you. That is our focus.

"We want to be able to give their families answers and your recollection of the events as they unfolded is crucial."

In an emotional statement, hotel owner Michael McElhatton, who gave CPR to the victims, said management and staff are assisting the police with their investigation. "We are all deeply shocked and saddened by the traumatic events of last night," he said.

"We offer our heartfelt sympathies to the families and friends of the three young people who lost their lives. Our thoughts are also with those who have been injured or affected in any way by this tragedy.

"I would like to place on record our appreciation for the speedy response of the emergency services to last night's terrible events."

Tributes have been paid to all three victims.

Connor was the youngest of the three and attended St Patrick's Academy in Dungannon along with Morgan.

Hundreds of students, staff and parents yesterday attended a prayer service at the school in memory of all three teenagers.

A keen GAA player, Connor was remembered by his club Edendork GAC as a "much loved and highly thought of player and member".

Lauren was a pupil at sister school St Patrick's College, where principal Catherine McHugh yesterday remembered her as "a beautiful girl and "a shining light in our school community".

Euphoria Allstar Cheerleading NI, of which Lauren was a member, said it was devastated at the loss of "the most down to earth, beautiful soul".

Meanwhile a family member, Betsy Martin, put out a call on social media for anyone who saw anything of the incident on Sunday evening to get in touch with the family as they "wanted answers".

PSNI detectives can be contacted at the dedicated incident room at Dungannon police station by calling 101, extension 53055.

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