Thursday, September 28

Father of Irish schoolboy who fell to his death on Greek island lays bare his grief

The father of Andrew O’Donnell, one of two Irish schoolboys who died in the space of just 24 hours on the Greek island of Ios this weekend, has told of his grief at losing his son.  

The 18-year-olds were on a post-exam holiday celebrating the end of their secondary education with dozens of classmates from Dublin’s St Michael’s College when tragedy struck. 

O’Donnell is believed to have fallen and hit his head while walking home along some cliffs to his hotel in the early hours of Saturday morning after a night out in Hora, the capital of Ios. 

O’Donnell’s body was found on Sunday morning, and news of his death later that day caused his friend Wall to collapse from shock. According to local media the youngster had a history of heart problems. 

Andrew’s father Gavin is said to be distraught, a close family friend who asked to remain anonymous told MailOnline. 

‘Gavin described Andrew as his ”darling boy” in a message to me.

‘Gavin is a very giving man as it is his whole family. He is very proud of this college and as an Alma mater.

‘Andrew’s grandfather Joe is a doctor and they are both very proud of Andrew, who was in the prime of his life. This is such a devastating tragedy.

‘There for the grace of God go I. It is such a shock.

‘It is just unexplainable. He and Max were so young. We just do not know why this happened. We are all grieving for both families.’

The parents of both O’Donnell and Wall are now en-route to Greece to discover the results of today’s post-mortem tests and bring home their remains.

Andrew O'Donnell, 18, was out with a team of classmates from Dublin's St Michael's College when he went missing. His body was found on Sunday morning

Max Wall, also 18, is understood to have collapsed and died just hours after his classmate was found

Recent graduates Andrew O’Donnell (left) and his classmate Max Wall (right), both 18 and from the same school, died in separate tragic incidents over the weekend

18-year-old school pupil Andrew O’Donnell, pictured with the family dog 

Tributes and flowers have already been laid at the gates of St. Michael's College

Tributes and flowers have already been laid at the gates of St. Michael’s College

Police spokesperson Konstantina Dimoglidou told MailOnline: ‘While the injuries on [O’Donnell’s] neck and head suggest at first glance that he strayed off course; that he tripped and fell, we are also exploring criminal negligence.’ 

Reports suggested police may investigate whether their drinks had been spiked, though Dimoglidou was clear that the results of a post-mortem due to be performed today would be ‘pivotal’ in establishing the line of inquiry into the deaths of O’Donnell and his fellow classmate Wall.

‘If verified by the findings of an autopsy to be performed Tuesday, authorities will move to launch a criminal investigation,’ investigators said. 

Fellow pupils formed a guard of honour as police transported the boys’ bodies from Ios to Athens, ahead of them being flown home to Ireland accompanied by their grieving families.

Their traumatised classmates are returning to Ireland via Bristol today and two services for will be held for them tomorrow morning and evening in Dublin conducted by father Paddy Moran and the school’s senior principal.

Irish Tánaiste Micheál Martin yesterday said: ‘It is devastating and the most traumatic news that any parent could hear and it is every parent’s nightmare and many of our sons and daughters go abroad after Leaving Certificates and after exams.

‘Obviously many of their friends are out there in Ios and it’s a very, very difficult time for them now and we just ask them to look after each other over the next number of days and in the difficult time ahead.’

He said Andrew and Max had been ‘two outstanding young men with their lives ahead of them’ and that his thoughts and prayers were with the families and their friends.

Devastating loss: Students comfort each other outside St Michael's College in South Dublin

Devastating loss: Students comfort each other outside St Michael’s College in South Dublin

Timeline of terrible island double tragedy

1.30AM SATURDAY MORNING 

Andrew O’Donnell is last seen, socialising with his friends in Hora, before he decides to return to his accommodation but gets separated from a friend along the way.

9PM SATURDAY

Andrew is reported missing by his friends. A major search is initiated by police, involving many of his friends.

EARLY SUNDAY MORNING 

School principal Tim Kelleher is contacted and told one of the boys is missing.

10.30AM SUNDAY

Andrew’s body is found near rocks, at the base of a cliff.

2PM SUNDAY

His classmate, Max Wall, is found in an unresponsive, unconscious state near the island’s port. Kelleher said he had been returning early from his holiday. An ambulance is called, but Max is pronounced dead on arrival at a local health centre.

4.15PM SUNDAY 

School confirms the double tragedy.

MONDAY 

The remains of Andrew and Max brought to Athens for a post-mortem examination, to determine the causes of their deaths.

TUESDAY 

Their classmates begin returning to Ireland. 

Higher Education Minister Simon Harris said his thoughts were with the pupils in Greece who were ‘now encountering such shock and pain and grief’.

School principal Tim Kelleher said he had been told by the Tánaiste there are 1,000 students on the island, who were celebrating finishing their Leaving Cert, 90 of whom are from St Michael’s College.

He said news of the deaths had spread quickly among fellow students, adding: ‘They all want to leave. They were traumatised and people were saying I want to get home.

‘South Dublin is a small parish, all the schools know each other, they play against each other, they are friends with each other, there are older siblings and friends all over the area who are deeply devastated.

‘It is a tight-knit community. When something like this happens there is a lot of hysteria and a lot of fear and parents are ringing and everyone is traumatised especially the boys who were with Andrew and Max. They are traumatised.

‘They just want to come home and will be all home in the next 48 hours.’

The past president of St Michael’s Union, Tom McCormack, said it was the ‘darkest day’ in the school’s history.

One of the college’s sister schools – St Mary’s College in Rathmines, Dublin – was also caught up in an overseas tragedy involving past pupils in 2015, when seven people were killed after a balcony collapsed at a birthday party in Berkeley, California.

McCormack said: ‘It was a devastating day, we’ve been heartened by the volume of messages from Government ministers, councillors, senators, other schools.

‘Our sister school, St Mary’s, eight years ago had the Berkeley tragedy and we are now experiencing our darkest day.’

The College paid tribute to the two teenagers with a quotation from Roman philosopher Seneca.

An online message on its website posted this morning said: ‘In loving memory of Andrew O’Donnell & Max Wall.

‘The comfort of having a friend may be taken away. But not of having had one.’ Seneca.

St Michael’s College chaplain, Fr Paddy Moran, told the Irish Examiner: ‘Everything is being done to bring them home by whatever means and as soon as possible, we hope that’ll be within the next two to three days.

Two masses will be held on Tuesday at 12pm and 6pm in memory of Andrew and Max and ‘all who wish to attend are welcome’, Fr Moran said. 

The Department of Foreign Affairs said the remains of Andrew and Max will be brought from the Cycladic isle to Athens at 8am today for a post mortem to determine the causes of their deaths.

They will then be released to their families later in the week and arrangements will be made to bring them home.

The Department of Foreign Affairs’ consular service will accompany the families.

Ireland’s Rugby Union U20 squad, who today play Fiji in the World U20 Championships, have been granted permission to wear black armbands to mark the tragic deaths O’Donnell and Wall, who were friends with several squad members.

‘The guys are definitely in a little bit of shock, very devastated obviously with what’s happened,’ said coach Richie Murphy. ‘I think that’s through the whole squad, obviously these guys know the young boys a lot better than some of the other members.

‘They’re definitely feeling a little bit better today and probably, not come to terms with it, but clarified what’s happening in their heads.’

Team Captain Diarmuid Mangan added: ‘A lot of lads in our squad would have known the two boys. Everyone is just kind of trying to get around the lads and make sure they’re doing all right and they’re being picked up. It’s obviously an awful tragedy and we offer our condolences to the two families.’

It comes as Greig Oliver, a former Scottish rugby international and the father of Ireland U20s player Jack Oliver, was also killed in a paragliding accident over Cape Town yesterday.  

St Michael’s College is highly reputed for its sporting programmes, having churned out a slew of Ireland international rugby players including James Ryan, Ross Byrne, Ronan Kelleher and Ryan Baird.

It has managed to establish itself as one of Irish schools rugby’s most formidable forces, winning three Leinster Senior Cups and six Junior Cups. 

Hundreds of 'traumatised' and heartbroken students are making their way home from the Greek island of Ios (pictured) today and tomorrow following the tragic deaths of two of their school friends

Hundreds of ‘traumatised’ and heartbroken students are making their way home from the Greek island of Ios (pictured) today and tomorrow following the tragic deaths of two of their school friends

Tributes: Flowers left at St Michael¿s College in Ballsbridge, Dublin, where the two young men attended

Tributes: Flowers left at St Michael’s College in Ballsbridge, Dublin, where the two young men attended

Tributes have been paid to the two teenagers, Andrew O'Donnell and Max Wall, as "bright, sporting, academic" young men

Tributes have been paid to the two teenagers, Andrew O’Donnell and Max Wall, as ‘bright, sporting, academic’ young men

Andrew had gone missing while apparently trying to find his way back to his accommodation alone, after a night out with friends in Hora.

He was last seen at around 1.30am on Saturday.

The alarm was raised with local police by his friends at around 9pm that evening when he failed to return.

Following a major search, his body was found in a gully at around 10.30am on Sunday morning, close to rocks at the foot of a cliff.

His body showed signs of having fallen but it was not known whether he had fallen from a height.

No sooner had that tragedy struck before Andrew’s classmate Max Wall collapsed while waiting for a ferry at the island’s port. The port is the only way to leave the island and Max was waiting to return to Athens to get a flight home when he was found unconscious at around 2pm on Sunday.

Emergency services rushed him to a local health centre where he was pronounced dead on arrival. Max had undergone successful heart surgery three years earlier.

The regional police directorate of the south Aegean area, which is handling the investigation, said it expected the post mortems to yield answers.

‘Andrew was found on a path between the port and town. It seems he fell,’ said Brigadier Thanos Loukas, the directorate’s commanding officer. ‘Max was found very close to the place where he was staying. We have since heard he had a history of heart problems but the answers lie in the autopsies. The cause of death in both cases will become clearer once they are carried out.’

Another police officer said witnesses who were with Max said the young man become very distressed when he was told the news about his friend.

He added: ‘Max collapsed when he heard what had happened. Everyone is saying what is true, that the incident is like an ancient Greek tragedy. The whole island is in shock.’ Dimoglidou confirmed: ‘He just collapsed and died. He was taken to the local hospital and his death recorded.’

Minister for Education Norma Foley said there were ‘no words’ to describe the heartbreaking news.

Kelleher said representatives of the school’s parent association had flown to the Greek island to support the families. He told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland: ‘We’re absolutely devastated, the entire community is reeling with the news.’

He described Andrew as a ‘fantastic young man, great sportsman, fantastic footballer’ who was academically bright, and had turned 18 less than a month ago.

He said: ‘The world was his oyster, he was looking forward to his holiday, looking forward to going to college – a very, very bright future. The boys had been searching for him and they got the worst possible news yesterday morning.’

He described Max as ‘very bright’, a ‘fantastic footballer’ who was ‘passionate about rugby’. He added: ‘Again, the world at his feet. Full of optimism and hope for the future. Unfortunately, both families got the news yesterday that their future had been taken from them and we’re obviously devastated for them, their family and friends and we’re here to help and support in any way we can over the next days and weeks.’

He said that the school was open for the week, that a book of condolences had been opened and supports are available to those who need them.

Bouquets of flowers have been placed at the school, where the Irish tricolour and the school flag are being flown at half mast outside the front door.

Kelleher continued: ‘It’s exactly the nightmare that every parent dreads. You just don’t want to get that call to say your child is missing. But two of our families have had that call and we are devastated for them and our hearts are broken and our sympathy goes to them all.’

The news comes just one week after Rory Deegan died on the Greek island of Zakynthos. The 22-year-old, from Co. Laois, was found unresponsive in a swimming pool and was later pronounced dead.

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