A steady stream of mothers and grandmothers signed the condolences book in Cookstown yesterday for the families of three teenagers who died in the disco tragedy on Sunday.
A common theme in their motivation was that it could easily have been their children or grandchildren and that they hoped their words could give some comfort to the grieving families.
Many of them said the venue of the tragedy was considered the place to socialise for generations of young people.
Lauren Bullock, 17, Morgan Barnard, 17, and 16-year-old Connor Currie, died after the incident outside the Greenvale Hotel, Cookstown, on Sunday. Witnesses reported a queue of hundreds of people falling on top of each other.
As the steady stream of well wishers quietly filed into the foyer of the Burnavon Arts Centre yesterday to sign the book, just off Cookstown’s main street, another less frequent stream of people also came in.
Teachers from a variety of schools stopped to quietly ask directions inside the centre to the police incident room for the tragedy. Then they led pupils in a variety of school uniforms up the stairs to share their accounts of what happened on Sunday night.
Marie O’Neill, who has four grandchildren and one great grandchild, said she signed the Cookstown book “because it was such a tragedy”.
She added: “I didn’t know them but they could have been anyone’s grandchildren, nieces, or nephews or cousins. They could have been any of our children or grandchildren.”
A mother whose children were present at the disco on Sunday night also signed.
“I just felt it was a terrible tragedy and my kids were at the event,” she said. “I am lucky I still have them. Obviously they are still traumatised from seeing everything.”
Christine Rocks said it was important for her to record her support for the families “because I am a mother who has lost a child in different circumstances”.
She added: “They will be looking for answers to questions, like how and why, but unfortunately they might not get that. My heart just goes out to them. It is a club that you don’t want to belong to, the club of losing a child.”
A frail elderly woman with tears in her eyes could barely speak after signing.
“I am just here in sympathy for the young kids,” she said, before breaking down and walking away in tears.
Teresa Neeson from Dungannon said she shared the pain. “It hits you in the heart and you feel for the parents,” she said. “We all went there when we were young.”
She was one of many visitors who also signed the nearby condolences book for the victims of the recent mass shootings at two mosques in New Zealand.
“Again, it was just the loss of life. Life is so important. I can’t understand how someone would do something like that,” she said.
Michelle Hampsey also signed the Cookstown book.
“I just wanted to show our support for the families and all those that were caught up in the tragedy,” she said, “and also for Micky [the hotel owner Michael McElhatton] and his staff.”
Bernie Conlon said her thoughts were with the three families for the days ahead.
“I just signed it to give them that you are thinking of them at this time of loss and that our words might give them some comfort in the days ahead,” she said.
Lorraine Gilmore was another who deeply empathised. “It was a tragedy,” she said. “No person should have to bury a child.”
Philomena and Peter Teague know some of the grieving grandparents.
“It is just so sad,” said Philomena. “We know some of their families,” Peter added.
Michael Campbell, who went to the disco himself when young, said it was “so sad; they had their whole life in front of them”.
Mark McCusker, 18, said he did not know the teens. “But I just signed because I feel for the families and friends of those who died,” he said.
DUP leader Arlene Foster visited Burnavon Theatre in Cookstown yesterday morning to sign the book of condolence.
“I cannot begin to comprehend the pain and anguish the families of Lauren, Connor and Morgan are going through at this time,” said Mrs Foster, Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA.
“As a mother of two teenagers this is the news no parent should ever receive, particularly as young people go out for an evening of enjoyment.
“There are many homes in Northern Ireland who have been devastated by tragedy over the bank holiday weekend.
“I want to pass on my condolences to the families involved and I pray God will strengthen them all in the days ahead.”