The parents of a policewoman killed when her patrol car was hit by a stolen 4x4 have said their hearts are broken by the loss of their wee girl.
Mervyn and Dorothy Reynolds said the warmth of the tributes paid to their daughter Philippa since her death in Londonderry at the weekend has given them strength and also filled them with pride.
Constable Reynolds, 27, was a back seat passenger in the unmarked police car that was struck by the jeep in the early hours of Saturday morning. Two men have been charged in connection with her death.
Her parents were on holiday in America when they found out about the fatal crash.
Back at the family home in Crumlin on the outskirts of Belfast with their other daughters Debra and Nicola, and with Con Reynolds’ body having been returned to them, the couple spoke of their devastation.
“We may appear strong today, but believe it we are not and our hearts our breaking,” said Mrs Reynolds.
“But we have Philippa here at home with us for the minute, but she will be buried and she’ll be gone.
“Like many other people who have lost loved ones they will know how we feel - we are devastated, we are devastated. We can’t believe it, really we still haven’t taken it in, we just really cannot believe it.”
Mrs Reynolds said the reaction of her daughter’s police colleagues had overwhelmed them.
“That’s possibly the biggest thing that I can’t take onboard in all that has happened - how much they love her,” she said.
“And I am so proud of her, and it’s just lovely. It’s just lovely because she’s my wee girl and our wee girl.”
Mr Reynolds said his daughter’s infectious smile would always stay with him.
“I even look at the official police photograph that is being shown in the papers and I look at it and say ‘She is struggling, she wanted to smile, she couldn’t keep a face like that’.
“If you look at the photograph, the edges of the mouth are being held back, she wants to get that big cheesy grin out - that’s how I will remember her.”
Her father also recalled the awful moments when, in the middle of the night in Las Vegas, he received the terrible call from his daughter Debra, just hours before they were set to start their journey home.
“At 1.50am or thereabouts my mobile phone rang and I looked at it - private number - and I went ‘ignore’ because I thought it was some cold caller. I was thinking back, add on eight hours and it’s UK time, somebody is trying to sell me a time-share or something.
“I got two calls and then Dorothy’s phone rang - it was all private numbers.
“It was only when Debra’s name came up that I answered the phone. I was speaking, Dorothy was half asleep but the conversation was Debra says ‘Philippa’s dead’ and I goes, disbelief, I could not believe it.
“But she said: ‘Really, I didn’t want to tell you so soon, but we didn’t want you finding out on Facebook when you are travelling home’.
“In no stage in my part of the conversation did I say anything about Philippa’s death, it was all just ‘No, it can’t happen’, so when the conversation ended I then went over beside Dorothy and said ‘We have one less daughter’.”
Mrs Reynolds described her reaction.
“I just didn’t take it in at first, I didn’t really, I just could not believe it,” she said.
“Because of my faith I had to ring a friend and immediately get her to pray, which I knew would help, which is what she did and that (prayer) has been carrying us since.”
Con Reynolds originally trained as a teacher and had taught for a period at Kilkeel High School in Co Down before joining the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) two years ago.
The keen hockey player was posted to Derry - a city that bore more than its share of violence during the Troubles and where, during the conflict, many nationalists and republicans viewed the police with distrust.
In that context, Mr Reynolds said the cross-community nature of the sympathy messages from the city had touched the family.
“I am amazed how much effect it has had,” he said.
“With social media and things like Facebook, this incident has gone virally worldwide and I am just hoping that there will be some effect within our little country.
“I hear from her senior officers and other people that people are coming in from parts of Derry that would never have walked into a police station before, they are handing in sympathy cards, mass cards, it’s amazing.”
Two books of condolences were opened in Londonderry today to let members of the public pass on their respects ahead of tomorrow’s funeral service for the tragic officer.
Mr Reynolds said he hoped his daughter’s legacy would result in more people accepting the PSNI.
“I just hope that more people will see the PSNI as the community police force that it is,” he said.
“And it’s there to help everyone, no matter what their religion or beliefs are, they want to treat everybody the same, and they don’t pick and choose and say ‘You’re one side and I’m not the same as you so I’m not going to do the work that I have to’.”
Her father said he had no fears when his daughter joined the PSNI.
“I didn’t, I thought it was a good career to go into and advised her that if she was going to do it, to head for the top basically.”
He said he had been told that is exactly where she was destined.
“She made a decision, she went to the police, she got through the training and I believe she has enjoyed every minute of her career to this point and really from what I hear people think she was going to go far.”
Mrs Reynolds said her daughter brought her personality to her work as a policewoman.
“We just brought her up to treat everyone the same and she said to me ‘Mum I just go out and I just talk to everybody like they are all the same people, I don’t worry about them being Catholic or Protestant, they are just people and I just talk to them’ and that was just the way she was, she just talked to everybody and had a big smile, that was just what she was like - she just had a big smile and a laugh, a big laugh too.”
The officer’s mother added: “She was warm, bubbly, always happy, a very even-tempered girl, never really got cross - maybe with her pupils (at school) she might have a wee bit - but very good, always in good form and laughing.”
She said one of her earliest memories of her daughter was being at a Girls’ Brigade event and her walking around the stage and fixing them with a grin so they could take her picture.
Mrs Reynolds said she believed Philippa had touched those she had worked with and expressed hope that her death was not in vain
She said her faith would sustain her for the funeral.
“My strength is from the Lord,” she said.
“I have my faith and I trust in him and he gets me through every day. The prayers and sympathy and the love that we can feel from every single person who has come through that door, the love we have felt, everybody, and that is just buoying us up and supporting us and we are just very grateful for it and we thank everyone for that.”
Asked what would give them strength, Mr Reynolds stressed that the family had always been very close.
But his wife added: “Now one of us is missing.”