Mhari O'Neill: Police fear teen may have died of cold after drinking on Calton Hill
Police investigating the death of Mhari O'Neill fear the teen may have died from the cold after drinking with a friend on Calton Hill.
A member of the public found the body of Mhari O’Neill close to a bench on Calton Hill at around 6.30am just hours after her distraught family had reported her missing to the police.
Police are currently treating her death as unexplained with officers still trying to identify the cause of her death.
The Portobello High School pupil met a friend near Waverley Station in the early afternoon of Friday, December 7 and the pair spent time in the city before making their way up to Calton Hill.
It is understood the pair were together at the city centre landmark until around 11pm on Friday when Mhari’s friend headed for home.
Speaking during a police press conference on Calton Hill on Wednesday, Detective Inspector Susan Balfour said officers are investigating the possibility that the two friends had been drinking and that Mhari had later fallen asleep and died from the cold.
Temperatures dipped to around 6C on Friday, but wind chill would have made it significantly colder.
DI Balfour said: “It is a definite line of inquiry that they were drinking but we are waiting for toxicology reports to come back.
“This can take a number of weeks but we are trying to rush through the results we want which will give us the clearest picture.
“We have to be vigilant that we’ve covered everything to provide clarity to Mhari’s mum and dad.”
Flowers and heartfelt tributes have been left on a bench close to where Mhari’s body was found.
In a separate statement, DI Balfour said: “This is extremely rare and concerning which is one of the reasons why the major investigations team is conducting an enquiry of this nature.
“We are just trying to gather as much information as we can to fill in all the gaps.
“The family are absolutely devastated. They can’t believe their daughter is not coming home.
“They equally need that information about what happened in the hours leading to her death.
“We’re pretty confident there’s some people out there that might have been up Calton Hill that might have seen her and can maybe fill in some of those gaps for her family.”
In a statement, her family said: “Mhari was much loved by all that knew her and we know that her passing will have a profound impact on her closest friends, as it has ourselves.
“Mhari was considering applying to attend university and one of her main passions was music; she loved going to gigs.
“What we need now is to find out exactly what happened to Mhari and we want anyone who thinks they may have information to get in touch with the police.
“We thank everyone for their support and ask that we be left in privacy to grieve at this time.”
A family member has also taken to social media pleading for anyone with information to come forward.
The tweet reads: “Please if anyone knows what happened please contact the police on 101. My family needs to know what happened to Mhari at Calton Hill.”
Mhari, from Willowbrae, was a popular fifth year pupil at Portobello High School who was considering going to university.
Headteacher Ruth Mackay led a special assembly at the school on Tuesday and pupils were offered support through the day.
Ms McKay said: “Everyone at the school is deeply saddened and shocked to hear about Mhari’s sudden death.
“The Portobello school community is a very close one and our thoughts are with her family.
“Mhari was a lovely, friendly girl who was well-liked by both staff and young people.
“Her bubbly, out-going nature and ready smile will be much-missed in school. We have been ensuring that young people and staff are offered all the support they need at this sad time.”
A spokesperson for the City of Edinburgh Council said: “Everyone at the school has been extremely shocked to hear about the sudden death at the weekend. We have been ensuring that young people and staff are offered all the support they need.”
Police are urging anyone with information about the teenager’s movements to contact them.
DI Balfour said: “We are committed to providing Mhari’s family with as much information in relation to her death as possible and anyone who can assist with our ongoing inquiry is urged to come forward.
“Naturally, we are working closely with partners in education to help support any young people who may have been affected by Mhari’s death.”
Those with information can contact the major investigation team on 101 and quote incident number 900 of December 8.