The principal of Harryville Primary School where Kayden Fleck had been a P1 pupil has said his death will not sink in until school resumes and staff and pupils see his empty desk.
The five-year-old, described by his parents as a “happy-go-lucky” boy, died on Saturday after he fell into the River Braid near the Ecos Centre in Ballymena.
Harryville principal Lesley Meikle said Kayden and his twin brother Jayden were an “adorable presence as they bounced around the school together”.
Mrs Meikle, who has been a teacher at Harryville PS since 1987 and principal since 2004, said she taught the twins’ older brother Daniel, who has since gone into secondary education.
She said Kayden was in his first year at Harryville, having gone to Ballykeel Nursery.
“Although the twins only came to school at the beginning of this term, we’ve known them since they were born because of having their older brother here,” she said.
“The last time Kayden was in the school he was dressed as a superhero for ‘Superhero Day’ on Friday. That’s how we’ll remember him.
“I don’t think it will sink in he’s gone until we see his empty desk. He was a wee chatterbox, a lovely wee boy.”
Pupils at Harryville are off for half term but staff are still in for training and the school was open to the public on Monday and will be again on Tuesday to allow them to sign books of condolence for Kayden’s family.
Mrs Meikle said: “I’ve a very young staff, very caring. They’ve never experienced this before. It’s hit them really hard.”
She said her staff were “holding each other up” and were being helped by the board’s educational psychologist as well as a Barnardo’s support worker.
The principal also said local businesses had proved to be a tremendous support.
“Off their own bat we’ve had businesses leave us bakery items and sandwiches to give to people who are coming to sign the book,” she said.
Mrs Meikle continued: “I am an emotional wreck. I can’t begin to imagine what his parents are going through.
“When he was born Kayden had heart problems and spent the first year of his life in hospital in England. His parents didn’t know if he would survive or not. He was a wee fighter and he came through that.
“And now they’re facing this. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and the horribleness they’re going through.”
Meanwhile, a crowdfunding effort set up in memory of Kayden has raised more than £5,000.
The Just Giving page was set up in the hours following the news that he had died in hospital after being rescued from the river and airlifted to the Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children.
Organisers of the page said the reason for setting up the appeal was to “get together and help this family give him a send off with love from our community”.