Hundreds lament the passing of a 'ray of sunshine': A community united by shock and grief pays its respects to Nikki Conroy. Malcolm Pithers reports

THE HAUNTING sound of Pie Jesu hung in the biting cold air, a lament to a lost child.

Children, still dazed and depressed by the murder of their classmate, Nikki Conroy, just 12, stood in small groups yesterday outside St Mary's Church in Acklam, Middlesbrough. They seemed lost, utterly dejected, leaning on gravestones, gazing at each other. A small boy stood at the side of one group in shirt and jeans, shivering and sobbing as the funeral service began.

Their teachers and parents stood alongside them, their heads bowed, still not quite believing that Nikki and her smiling face would not be seen again. All around them cameras recorded their open grief.

Nikki was stabbed to death in her class by a masked man at Hall Garth School on the outskirts of Middlesbrough, Cleveland, just over a week ago.

Yesterday, the children who were with her when she died, including Michelle Reeve and Emma Winter, both 13, who survived stab wounds, stood at the front of the church as the cortege arrived. It had wound its way from Nikki's home, the lead car full of flowers and cards, including one from the Prince of Wales, with two footmen walking in front.

Nikki's family and close relatives were still deeply shocked by her death. It was, according to the Rev Simon Wright, vicar of St Mary's, a shock shared by the nation. 'One thing that has been very clear during the last few days is that Nikki's family have been comforted by a vast outpouring of love and support, not only from this community but from all over the country,' he said. 'People all over this country have felt grief, shock and sorrow at what has been done to Nikki.'

He touched the emotional nerve of those in and outside the church by saying that, for many people, Nikki had been a 'ray of sunshine'. She was always smiling and people all around will forever remember the photograph of her happy, smiling face, published soon after her death.

Her friends sobbed as Mr Wright said that Nikki had been poised to begin the main part of her life, like a 'bud about to bloom'. Her life, however short, had been full of interest, of activity and of expectation. She was a girl who loved sport, was a good swimmer and runner, a Linford Christie fan who also loved to watch boxing. She kept two eccentric rabbits, had always wanted to become a veterinary surgeon and was learning the trombone. Nikki's life, her hopes, plans and some of her personality were paraded proudly in front of the congregation and those standing out in the cold.

Peter Smith, her headmaster, read the lesson and her form tutor, Bob Howsam, read two short passages chosen by her brother, John, and parents, Peter and Di Conroy.

As the service ended, Nikki's friends walked slowly away, not speaking, still sobbing and still lost.

The man accused of murdering Nikki appeared in court for the second time yesterday, just hours before her funeral.

Stephen James Wilkinson, 29, as remanded in custody until 3 May when he made a one-minute appearance before Teesside magistrates in Middlesbrough.

During the brief time he was in court, Mr Wilkinson, who is unemployed, spoke only once to acknowledge his identity.

Mr Wilkinson, of Easterside, Middlesbrough, is charged with Nikki's murder and the attempted murders of Michelle Reeve and Emma Winter, at Hall Garth school.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

JavaScript Developer (Angular, Web Forms, HTML5, Ext JS,CSS3)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: JavaScript Dev...


£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice