A shocked community has gathered this afternoon to pay their respects at a vigil to four boys who tragically died after falling through a frozen lake. The incident happened last Sunday (December 11) in Solihull, just outside Birmingham, shortly after large parts of Britain were blanketed in snow and ice. The boys were siblings Samuel Butler, six, and eight-year-old Finlay Butler, as well as their cousin Thomas Stewart, 11, and Jack Johnson, 10. The local community is gathering at St Barnabas Church, on Over Green Drive outside Birmingham to pay tribute to the youngsters.
People are bringing flowers, balloons, teddy bears, candles, and message notes in memory of the boys in a “sea of tributes”, Birmingham Live reported. The boys were rescued from Babbs Mill Lake, in Kingshurst, Solihull, near Birmingham, on Sunday and rushed to hospital.
The deaths of Finlay, Thomas and Jack were confirmed on Monday while Samuel died in the hospital on Wednesday. Thomas’s older brother called him a “lively little soul” with “a big heart”, also paying tribute to his cousin Fin and saying “gonna miss you little man”.
Jack’s headteacher called him a “ray of sunshine”, while Thomas’s head described him as a “fiercely loyal friend”. In a statement issued via the police, Thomas’s sibling said: “He was such a lively little soul, he had a big heart for such a young kid and he was so beautiful.
“He loved being outside playing with his mates. I love you Tom. Big bro will take care of the family and I will see you soon. Make sure you keep practising on (video game) Warzone and get a win, will you?
“Can’t forget about my dinosaur man Fin, he loved dinosaurs so much and always showing me new things he built on Minecraft and all the new stuff he learnt on it. Gonna miss you little man.”
Samuel, Finlay and Thomas’s family said they had been overwhelmed by the support from neighbours. The tragedy has sent shockwaves through the tight-knit community of Kingshurst with a carpet of flowers now laid at a makeshift shrine which has grown up around a tree, near the lake.
Since Sunday night hundreds of people have been bringing candles, bouquets, children’s toys, and balloons to the spot, as people struggle to deal with the scale of the loss. Two local pubs have turned over more than £4,000 in cash donations, initially intended for a Christmas toy-drive, to support the devastated families.
More than £27,000 had also been raised in an online crowdfunding campaign by Thursday afternoon.
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The tragedy has united the city’s rival football clubs, Aston Villa and Birmingham City FC, in grief, with representatives of both clubs turning up unannounced at the scene, to lay flowers.
Blues’ head coach laid a wreath at the memorial on Tuesday, while Aston Villa’s Tyrone Mings and club captain John McGinn laid flowers there on Wednesday. Mings said: “We felt it was important to come down here, show our respects and show we were thinking about everything that has happened and the parents that are affected by it. We feel that pain too.”
The boys’ families also paid tribute to the emergency services, the police, West Midlands Fire Service and West Midlands Ambulance Service, for “all they did in rescuing the boys”. One West Midlands Police officer, a student response officer on one of his first operational rotations, suffered mild hypothermia trying to punch through the ice to reach the children.
The boys’ relatives said: “As a family we are devastated at the loss of our beautiful boys; Tom, Fin and Sam in such tragic circumstances. We would like to thank the emergency services for all they did in rescuing the boys and to the community for their support, it has been overwhelming.
“We would like to pass on our condolences to Jack’s family at this very sad time, and ask for privacy from the media to begin to grieve.”
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Paying tribute to school pupil Jack, Cieran Flaherty, St Anthony’s Catholic Primary School headteacher, said: “Jack was a loving, bubbly pupil with a heart of gold. Someone who would always check in on others and make sure they were doing ok. He was a joy to teach and a child who we are all so very proud of.
“A ray of sunshine who would never fail to make us all smile. We can only say thank you to him for brightening up our lives.”
The school reopened on Tuesday, and held a special service of remembrance. Paying tribute to Thomas, Dr Toby Close, Park Hall Academy’s associate head, said: “Tom was a well-liked, caring pupil with real character who went out of his way to look after those around him.
“He was a fiercely loyal friend to so many in our school community. In the short time he was at Park Hall, his outgoing personality, energy and wit shone through. We will miss him brightening every day with his great sense of humour. He radiated a love for learning with his infectious smile and enthusiastic manner.
“He will be greatly missed and will always hold a place in the hearts of everyone at Park Hall Academy. Our thoughts are with his friends and family at this extremely difficult time.”
Superintendent Rich Harris, of West Midlands Police, said: “This is a tragedy beyond words and a grief that is unimaginable for the families and friends of the boys. The support from the community has been overwhelming, not just for the bereaved families, but also for the emergency services, for which we are extremely grateful.”