A Co Antrim community has been rocked after a nine-year-old boy died and another teenager was left in a critical condition in hospital following a crash involving scrambler motorbikes in Ballymena.
The head-on collision happened in the Dunvale area of the town’s Dunclug estate shortly before 5pm on Thursday afternoon.
Both children, who were riding separate bikes, were taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, one by air ambulance, after the crash but the nine-year-old died in the early hours of Friday.
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The other boy, who is a 13-year-old friend of the deceased, is understood to be in a critical condition on life support in hospital.
On Friday morning, neighbours told how they heard screams in the aftermath of the crash and rushed to the scene to help the two children before emergency services arrived.
One woman recalled how she had “prayed all night” after observing what had happened.
A small floral tribute of red roses marked the spot where the accident occurred, in a green area of the estate and just yards from a local play park.
Speaking to Belfast Live at the scene, Ballymena SDLP Cllr Eugene Reid expressed his condolences.
He said: “The news of this death will come as a huge shock to the local tight-knit community. To lose a child, especially in these circumstances, is just horrendous and my thoughts are with the child’s family as they struggle to cope with the worst news imaginable for a parent.
“I would like to express my sympathies with the other child involved in this incident and their family. I know the whole community will join me in wishing them a speedy recovery and our thoughts are with them as they receive medical treatment.”
Cllr Reid also paid tribute to those who came to the aid of the young boys in the aftermath of the crash.
“I also thank those local people who tended to the injured immediately after the incident and who are undoubtedly traumatised by the incident, as well as to the emergency services who administered first aid and ensured the injured got the best medical treatment possible.”
Fr Patrick Delargy, parish priest of All Saints’ Church in Ballymena, knows both families.
He visited the nine-year-old’s home on Friday morning where he prayed with the family and felt it brought them some comfort.
“They were totally exhausted. They were coming back from hospital. They are finding it very hard to process the whole matter,” he told the BBC.
“There are not the words, I find it very hard to find the right words to say in those situations.”
He added: “I think they (the family) find it helpful when people visit and talk. I did feel that the whole area was very quiet when I visited earlier and not much happening. People were in shock.”
Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, Alliance Alderman Noel Williams, also offered his condolences following the tragedy.
“My thoughts and prayers are with both families and I ask that they are given the space they need at this very difficult time.
“I would like to thank the emergency services and in particular the Air Ambulance for their quick response to this incident and for getting the children the medical assistance needed,” he said.
North Antrim DUP MLA, Paul Frew said: “Terribly sad to hear this tragic news. As a father my heart goes out to the families involved. My thoughts and prayers are with them all. My thoughts also to all who attended the scene yesterday.”
UUP MLA Steve Aiken added: “Very sad news – our thoughts & prayers are for both sets of family & friends.”
In a statement, the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) said it responded to a 999 call at 4.47pm on Thursday.
“NIAS despatched three emergency crews and a doctor to the scene and also tasked the Charity Air Ambulance, with HEMS (Helicopter Emergency Medical Service) crew on board, to the incident.
“Following assessment and initial treatment one child was flown by Air Ambulance to the Royal Group of Hospitals in Belfast while the other was taken to the same location by ambulance.”
Police remained at the scene of the crash on Friday morning as investigations into the incident continued.
Officers have appealed for witnesses to the collision to come forward.
A PSNI spokesperson said: “A boy aged nine has sadly passed away following a two-vehicle collision in the Dunclug area of Ballymena, the Police Service of Northern Ireland can confirm.
“He died in hospital as a result of his injuries after a collision between two bikes that occurred on Thursday, 16th June at around 4.55pm.
“A second boy aged 13 was taken to hospital and is understood to be in a critical condition this morning.
“A full investigation is underway and Detective Sergeant Neil Harrison is appealing to anyone who witnessed the collision, or who has mobile phone footage which could assist officers with their enquiries, is asked to contact the Collision Investigation Unit on 101, quoting reference number 1342 of 16/06/22.”
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