Neighbours pay tribute after mum and son’s deaths
FOOTBALL shirts. A teddy in Hearts colours. A little red fire truck. The sorts of things that would normally take pride of place in a young boy’s bedroom.
But instead they form part of a growing shrine in Edinburgh’s Parkhead Grove accompanied by dozens of bouquets of flowers and notes of sympathy. One poignant card reads simply: “Why?”
The entire community are in shock after newlywed Michelle Stephen, 31, from the Sighthill area of the Capital, and her five-year-old son, Leon Weston, were found in the family home by heartbroken husband Barry on Tuesday evening.
Leon was Michelle’s child with her first husband, Kevin Weston, 37. They married in 2004 and were divorced five years later. Mr Weston was too distraught to speak about the tragedy.
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Police investigating the tragedy are understood to believe she suffocated her son before taking her own life in the same way.
Today a clearer picture began to emerge of the huge strain Michelle had been under in the months leading up to the deaths.
She had taken her terminally -ill father, Jim Weir, a respected prison officer, into her home to care for him in his final weeks, before he passed away in January after a brief battle with cancer. His death is said to have come as a hammer blow to her.
She is also understood to have brought forward her wedding in November at the Braid Hills Hotel so that he could attend. Her hen night was held at the Prison Officers Social Club in Longstone Road, where her father was a member, four days before the wedding in November.
Tuesday’s tragedy came after Michelle, who would have celebrated her 32nd birthday in ten days, reportedly told Leon’s school, Murrayburn Primary, he wouldn’t be attending that day.
When Barry returned to the family home in the afternoon he found their bodies lying together.
One friend, who asked not to be named, said she couldn’t digest the tragic situation. She said: “I just don’t understand it, I can’t stop whirling it around my head. Leon was so well-loved, his mother doted on him. I know the death hit her, but I just feel upset and haunted that I didn’t see what was going on in her mind. I wish I had, I feel so sick.”
Today, the pile of tributes outside the house had doubled in size. One message read: “RIP Leon - flying with the angels now. Everyone at school going to miss you loads.” Another said: “Rest in peace, my little one - give granddad a hug.”
Michelle’s husband Barry is being comforted at his parents’ home nearby. His mother Sharon, 52, said: “Barry is devastated and I’m devastated.”
Michelle is seen in our picture happily splashing in a pool with her son as a baby.
The photo was sent to the Evening News to mark Mother’s Day 2009, with an accompanying message from Leon: “Mum, Thank you for being there and making me such a happy little boy. I love you so much, Leon x.”
Other pictures left behind show the pair in happier times. Leon, a pupil at Murrayburn Primary School, beams in one photo as he stands proud in a smart black suit and crisp white shirt as he attends a function.
An album on the Edinburgh Prison Officers Social Club Facebook page shows dozens of snaps of a grinning Michelle dancing and enjoying her hen night with a dozen friends. She only married her second husband, Barry Stephen, last November. Her first husband – Leon’s father, Kevin Weston – now lives in Dalkeith. Both men were too upset to comment when approached.
Outside the semi-detached home the trio shared, a dozen red roses dusted with glitter have been placed on a fence post. Below them, daffodils, daisies and bunch after bunch of flowers pay tribute to mother and son. Two football shirts – one a Hearts strip, one Manchester United – are covered in loving messages.
“Leon I will miss playing with you XXX” says a card from one friend, Callum. A note addressed to both of them says: “May you be at peace in the care of the Angels.”
On the Manchester United football shirt “Auntie Kirsty and Uncle Jim”, wrote: “The Lost Souls, Dearly Missed, Forever In Our Hearts.”
Family members and friends gathered around the colourful shrine yesterday, laying gifts and comforting each other through tears, many saying it was “too soon” to talk.
The floral tributes were still being delivered late into the evening.
While small crowds mourned together, police stood guard at the front door and forensic examiners gathered evidence in the home.
Local lollipop man, Robert Latimer, 68, has shepherded the pupils at Murrayburn Primary School across the road for six years and never forgets a face.
He said: “I’d see him, walking across the road with his mum.
“He always used to carry a wee Hearts schoolbag with him, friendly wee lad.
“He had only started school last year. I say ‘see you tomorrow’ to all the kids, but it’s upsetting to say that it won’t be the case now.
“I’ve seen parents today with tears in their eyes, and I can’t imagine what his classmates thought when they saw that empty desk.”
Debby Harris, of Parkhead Drive, and a friend of Michelle’s, said: “Michelle was working at St Augustine’s [as a clerical assistant] where my daughter was going to school after coming from Foresters and it was a really tough time for her, but Michelle made her feel so welcome during the change. She was such a warm-hearted person.
Michelle was described as smiley and well-loved.
Neighbour Ernie Wishaw, 53, says: “I’m absolutely stunned. They weren’t there that long but were always right friendly. You would see the boy playing on the trampoline, he was always out in the garden.
Another local resident, NJ Swane, 32, added: “Leon and his friends always asked me for a high five when they saw me coming,” he said. “He always used to tell me what he was getting up to with his buddies.
“He was a very quiet boy but was always out on the street playing with his friends. I’m so saddened to hear what happened to him. It’s a tragedy.”
Speaking at the scene, Chief Inspector Richard Thomas, who is leading the investigation, said the deaths were so far being treated as “unexplained” and a “very tragic set of circumstances”.
Support for staff and pupils
PUPILS and staff at Murrayburn Primary which Leon attended, are being offered counselling to cope with the tragedy.
Council staff, including a psychologist, are at the school and a counselling service is in place to ensure staff and pupils receive all the support they need, the council said.
City education leader, Councillor Marilyne MacLaren, said: “We are deeply saddened to hear of this tragic incident which must be devastating for the family and their friends and colleagues. We will support them in any way we can.
“This tragedy affects our whole education community. This will be a very hard time for our staff and pupils and we will continue to offer help to those affected.”
The police officer leading the investigation into the deaths today called them “unexplained” and said “nothing could be ruled out” as an inquiry gets under way.