A MUM has spoken of her devastation after her 12-year-old daughter tragically died following a house fire in Ballymena.
Martha McMaster told ‘Ballymena Daily’ she previously lost a child and is now again going through every parent’s worst nightmare following the death of her daughter Brooke Reid, who was a second year pupil at Dunclug College in the town.
A fire broke out at Brooke’s end-of-terrace home at Staffa Drive in the Ballykeel Two area of Ballymena, on Wednesday evening.
Police and firefighters were at the scene where damage could be seen at upstairs rooms.
Martha, who has three older children, said: “I am totally devastated, I have already buried a child and now I will have to bury another one.”
Brooke’s grandfather Billy McMaster said: “I am only 59 and I buried my first son and this will be my third grandchild.”
Martha wished to praise the support of neighbours who were rallying round to help her.
She said: “We would like to thank everyone in the Ballykeel area for their support”.
Billy added: “As the grandfather of the family could I just thank everybody in the Ballymena area for their support.
“I have been getting messages from Lisburn, Belfast, Coleraine and as far as Londonderry/Derry, from both sides of the community and I really do appreciate it. I know definitely the whole family circle would agree with that”.
Police confirmed that a girl, aged 12, died following the house fire.
Chief Inspector William Calderwood said: “Police received a report of the fire at around 5:50pm. Tragically, the girl died at the scene.
“A man who was in the house was taken to hospital for treatment.
“The cause of the fire has not yet been determined and will be subject to investigation, in liaison with the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service.
“There are no further details at this time.”
The tragedy comes as police earlier launched a murder investigation in the area as 33-year-old Donald Fraser-Rennie was found dead in a flat in the nearby Crebilly Road.
Reverend Martin McNeely from Ballykeel Presbyterian Church said the child’s death was “tragic.”
“People find it really hard to find the vocabulary to describe the depth of sorrow,” he said.
“This is a community which has experienced a tragic murder this morning and now the tragic death of a much loved 12-year-old girl this evening,” he told the BBC.
Rev McNeely said on social media: ‘Short vigil in memory of Brooke will be at the Orkney / Staffa junction Thursday 6pm. Minute silence and prayer. The family thank everyone for all the comfort and outpouring of love. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. – Psalm 46:1 (Social distancing under the circumstances).’
Ballymena councillor Audrey Wales told the Belfast Telegraph: “This community really must be in such shock, this is two disastrous pieces of news within 24 hours.
“My heart, sympathies and prayers go out to the child involved and I hope that the community can be assured that they will get all the help that they need from the local council.”
A spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service told ‘Belfast Live’: “We got a call at 5.50pm today from Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) asking us to attend a fire scene in Ballykeel, Ballymena. A person was reported in the building.
“We dispatched two emergency crews to the scene and one ambulance officer.”
The Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service said three fire appliances attended the house fire in Ballymena at 5.47pm.
A spokesperson added: “Two were from Ballymena and one from Antrim.”
The Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, Councillor Peter Johnston, said: “The thoughts and prayers of all those at Council, including our Elected Members, Chief Executive and staff, go out to the devastated loved ones of both the young girl and man who lost their lives so suddenly in separate incidents in the Ballykeel area.
“Our community is suffering a deep sense of pain. In the days, weeks and months ahead, we will continue to pull together as a community and offer our unwavering support and care to our friends and neighbours following these heartbreaking tragedies.
“My thoughts are also with our brave emergency services and I thank them for their efforts.”
In a statement to ‘Ballymena Daily’, Robin Swann, the North Antrim Ulster Unionist Party Assembly member, has called on the entire community “to rally around the family circle of the young girl who died and the man injured in a terrible house fire in Ballymena this week”.
Assemblyman Swann also extended condolences on behalf of the North Antrim Ulster Unionist Association to the family circle on their tragic loss and called on the community to pray for a full recovery of those injured in the tragedy and for those affected by the fire.
He added: “I want to send my condolences to the relatives and friends of the young girl who was so tragically killed and to wish the injured person a very speedy recover. They are all in our thoughts and prayers. All fire deaths are very sad, but this one is particularly shocking.
“Whilst very few words can bring comfort to the family and friends of the young girl the constituency has lost, as the North Antrim MLA , I urge the community to play their part in terms of prayer and thought support in these difficult times,” said Assemblyman Swann.
North Antrim TUV MLA Jim Allister and Ballymena TUV councillor Matthew Armstrong in a joint statement said: “Within hours of a murder in the Ballykeel area of Ballymena the estate has been plunged into fresh sorrow with the tragic death of a young girl in a house fire.
“To now hear of this young girl’s death is devastating. The community rescue efforts were commendable but, alas, to no avail In respect of the child.“
Cllr Armstrong knows family members and said: “There are no words adequate to address the horror of this situation. My heart goes out to the distraught and devastated family. I’ve no doubt the tight knit community in Ballykeel will rally round, but there is a void here which will never be filled.”
The entirety of Ballymena is devastated following the house fire tragedy, Alliance councillor for the town area, Patricia O’Lynn, has said.
“It is almost impossible to find the words to describe this tragedy,” said Councillor O’Lynn.
“My thoughts and the thoughts of everyone in Ballymena are with the family of this poor girl. I also hope the man makes a full and quick recovery. The entirety of the town is devastated following this tragic incident, particularly following a murder in the same area earlier in the day.
“My thanks go to the emergency services who attended the scene. I know the local community will rally around the family and my heart goes out to them.”
STORY: NEVIN FARRELL