Liberton High death: Community united in grief

The community is united in grief. Picture: John Devlin
The community is united in grief. Picture: John Devlin
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It should have been just an average Wednesday at school, with pupils eagerly anticipating the Easter holidays.

But the police tape around the building and the ever-increasing array of flowers and cards at Liberton High told a more sobering story.

A solitary police officer stood guard at the entrance to the school, waving staff through in their cars.

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Young friends of Keane Wallis-Bennett, some holding hands, others with their arms around each other, consoled one another as they approached the school grounds to lay tributes beneath the school sign.

The distraught youngsters, many of them not even in their teens, sobbed as they read the touching cards and notes, asking why their friend had lost her life so prematurely.

Pain was etched on their young faces as they tried to make sense of the tragic events of the previous school day.

Joining them was Abbie Wallis, Keane’s mother, who laid flowers and looked at the other tributes left by shocked relatives, friends and pupils.

It was clear in some of the tributes that the school community is still raw from the death of another pupil – Jamie Skinner, the young student who died of a suspected heart attack just days before Christmas while making his debut for Tynecastle FC.

A touching note from friends Serena, Amber, Celeste and Olivia-Rose spoke volumes about Keane, a popular and talented young girl.

“Words can’t explain how much we all miss you. You were so bright and funny and don’t forget, extremely beautiful. We just want you back with us, but don’t worry you are safe up there and nothing will happen to you.

“The gods, angels, and Jamie will look after you. You don’t need to worry about your mum, dad and Ryan and the rest of your family as we will look after and protect them. I’m so sorry this happened to you gorgeous, I love you and hope we will see each other again soon. Good luck up there babes, we will make you proud. Rest in peace my beautiful angel.”

Keane’s tragic story also touched pupils and staff from other schools. A large bouquet from Wester Hailes High was among the tributes, with a simple note: “The pupils from Wester Hailes High send their sympathy for the tragic loss of one of your school friends.”

Another friend, Mya, wrote: “Heaven has gained a beautiful angel up there. You didn’t deserve what happened.”

Among the many people who arrived at Liberton High to pay their respects was Dorothy Maitland of Sands Lothian, a charity which supports families suffering the loss of still-born or small babies.

Mrs Maitland, right, the charity’s operations manager, said she felt compelled to visit the secondary and offer guidance and counselling.

She said: “We usually support families through the death of a baby but when you read about a tragedy like this, you know the impact.

“It’s unimaginable what this family is going through.

“I have come along to offer our counselling support from Sands Lothian, to anyone affected by Keane’s death.”

Mrs Maitland said she was “absolutely gutted” when she heard about the incident.

“One of our parents has a daughter at this school, and it must have been terrible, all those parents hearing about a tragedy at the school.

“I have been thinking about it non-stop,” she said.

She said she would encourage anyone affected by Keane’s death to talk about how they felt. Mrs Maitland added: “My advice would be to just speak about it, don’t bottle it up. Speak to your family, that’s what helps you cope in the long run. Too many people don’t speak about these things, but children are better at talking about these things.”

Shocked local residents also congregated outside the school in disbelief. Former pupil Cindy Rennie, 31, said: “I didn’t know the girl but I came here to pay my respects. It shouldn’t take something like this for the council to hopefully step in and spend some money. I used to go to that school and I knew it wasn’t in great condition. It’s just horrific. The council really needs to do something.”

Augusto Pierozzi, 48, lives around the corner from the school, and saw the ambulances screaming towards Liberton High on Tuesday morning.

He said: “How could this happen? I see the children every day. They are so young, it is terrible. I pray for her family.”

Meanwhile, at Liberton/Northfield Church, a vigil was organised by youth groups and church elders.

A book of condolence was opened for Keane’s grieving friends and family to leave heartfelt comments.

People of all ages sat in silence, some sobbing and hugging, others staring at the candles which were lit in Keane’s memory.

The church will be open to anyone affected by the tragedy over the next few days.

Throughout the day Liberton was an eerie wasteland. Lunchtime – normally so full of childish chatter and high jinks – was when most were struck with the enormity of what happened. Only the to-and-fro of police cars, council vehicles and media vans punctuated the abnormal quiet of the day.

By last night, heartbroken pupils – not sure what else to do with themselves – had swelled the floral tribute at the school into a 20ft bank of flowers. Among those paying tribute was devastated pal 
Natasha Stewart, who used to go to ballet lessons with 12-year-old Keane.

Natasha, also 12, who attends Gracemount High School, said: “It’s the saddest thing that ever happened. I started crying when I heard. We met at cheerleading. She was probably the most cheerful girl I ever knew. She just wanted to have fun. She was always cheery, she was always fun. She hugged me like she would everyone.”

Yesterday hugs of friendship had been replaced with cuddles of grief. In the coming dark days – as Edinburgh again mourns the death of a child – many more hugs will be needed to stave off the nightmares.

15,000 pay respects on facebook

MORE than 15,000 mourners have joined a Facebook tribute page set up in memory of tragic Keane Wallis-Bennett.

The page attracted thousands of ‘likes’ just hours after the horrific accident which claimed the schoolgirl’s life.

The online memorial, named RIP Keane Wallis-Bennett, states: “This is a page where everyone can remember Keane Wallis-Bennett.”

One poster, Lorraine Blyth, said: “My heart stopped as the news began to come out about this tragedy. My niece is also a first year at Liberton. The relief was tempered with utter devastation for this family. My thoughts and prayers are with them.”

Justine Lee, whose daughter went through primary school with Keane, said her daughter was “inconsolable”.