THREE teenagers have died following reports of a “crush” outside a St Patrick's night disco in the Greenvale Hotel, Cookstown.
Police confirmed the victims were 17-year-old Lauren Bullock from Donaghmore, Morgan Barnard, 17, of Dungannon and 16-year-old Connor Currie from Edendork.
Police said two of the youngsters died in hospital and one passed away at the scene.
A 16-year-old girl remains in stable condition in hospital and a further two teenagers were treated for injuries they received during the incident which has left a community in mourning.
The incident occurred shortly before 9.30pm, as a large group – estimated to be around 100 young people – were queuing up outside to enter the disco to celebrate St Patrick’s day.
Preliminary Police investigations show there was a crush towards the front door of the venue and in that crush people seem to have fallen and been fatally injured.
There was also reports of fighting after the incident commenced and at least one person has reported that they were assaulted.
“It is heartbreaking that an event which should have been fun for these youngsters on St Patrick’s night should end in such a terrible tragedy,” said PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton.
“Our investigation is at an early stage, and while the exact cause of the incident is still unknown, there are reports of a crush at the scene and initial enquiries indicate that a large group of young people were waiting to enter a disco.”
A teenage eye witness, who did not wish to be named, told the Courier there was a “sudden massive rush forward” which caused people in the queue to “collapse on top of each other.
“It was the scariest thing that has ever happened to me. It was so terrifying because people were screaming and there was genuine fear as everyone knew how serious it was.
“When we got free from it we could see people on the ground around us being treated.”
The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) received several 999 calls around 9.26pm on Sunday night with reports of people injured outside the hotel. It was declared a major incident and six emergency ambulances, four emergency response doctors and four emergency officers attended the scene.
Police arrived within two minutes of the call from the Ambulance Service and quickly secured the scene. They made an urgent appeal via social media to parents of the young people to come and collect them from a Friends and Family Centre which was established in the nearby Glenavon Hotel.
The Fire Service, Environmental Health and senior officials from Mid-Ulster District Council, including chief executive Anthony Tohill then also attended the scene.
A representative of the Glenavon Hotel said the PSNI borrowed its defibrillator.
Dr Nigel Ruddell, medical director of the NIAS, described the events as a “tragic accident”.
“At this stage everything points toward it being a tragic accident and our hearts absolutely go out to the families of those involved and everybody who was caught up in this incident last night,” he said yesterday.
The Drum Road in Cookstown was closed off in the wake of the incident and Police remained at the cordoned off scene at the Greenvale Hotel throughout Monday.
Owner of hotel, Michael McElhatton issued a statement on Monday evening following the horrendous incident.
“The management and staff are assisting Police in their investigations and would like to place on record their appreciation for their speedy response to the emergency services to last night's events.”
A PSNI Major Investigation Team (MIT) has now been appointed to investigate and will work in conjunction with Environmental Health at Mid-Ulster Council. It is understood Police are analysing CCTV footage from the area to try and establish what happened in this tragic incident which has sent shockwaves throughout the Province.
Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said: “A major investigation is underway and I can confirm that a specialist team of detectives has now been assigned to the enquiry. They will seek to establish the full circumstances of this dreadful incident. 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. 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 to please get in touch with MIT detectives. We need to know what you saw.
“I can understand that there may be some reluctance to contact Police if you are underage, but 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.” Police have also asked any motorists who have dash cam footage, as well as anyone who captured the incident on their mobile phone through photographs or video, to upload them to Major Incident Public Portal https://mipp.police.uk/.