Tears, candles and prayers as town mourns four teenagers killed in crash in North Wales

Shrewsbury is gripped by grief following the death of Wilf Fitchett, Jevon Hirst, Harvey Owen and Hugo Morris, Alex Ross writes

Wednesday 22 November 2023 16:29 GMT
Four bodies found in search for teenagers missing in north Wales, police announce

Wednesday was supposed to be a day of celebration in Shrewsbury as locals geared up for the annual Christmas lights switch-on.

But instead of music and merriment, there was only grief as the market town comes to terms with the loss of four of its own.

Teenagers Wilf Fitchett, Jevon Hirst, Harvey Owen and Hugo Morris were all well-known and highly thought of students studying for their A-levels at Shrewsbury College.

Teenagers from Shrewsbury College light candles at Shrewsbury Abbey in memory of the four young men who lost their lives in North Wales (The Independent)
The four teenagers from left to right; Jevon Hirst, Wilf Fitchett, Harvey Owen and Hugo Morris (PA/North Wales Police)

When the tragic news emerged on Tuesday that they had all died in a car crash in North Wales there was shock, followed by an outpouring of emotion.

Have you been impacted by the death of the four teenagers? Email alexander.ross@independent.co.uk

Shrewsbury Abbey opened its doors early for students at the college’s English Bridge campus, where the four studied, for solace and tributes.

Among them was a group of nine teenagers who brought flowers and lit candles at a specially set-up display near the altar, before they sat in silence in the front pew.

Students gather in remembrance of the four teenagers at Shrewsbury Abbey (The Independent)

“I still can’t believe it – it just doesn’t feel real,” Dan Cox, aged 16, told The Independent. “These were wonderful lads, it’s devastating, really, and we’re all feeling it. We only spoke to them a few days ago.”

William Love, aged 17, said: “I’m just thinking about all the good times we had, trying to stay positive but it’s hard not to feel upset – they were one of us and it’s hurting us all.”

Teenagers arrive at Shrewsbury Abbey to pay their respects to the dead students (The Independent)
Joe Goody and Paul Rowson left tributes at Shrewsbury Abbey (The Independent)

The college was open – but it was up to students if they wanted to attend. At the campus, which sits across the River Severn from the town centre, students created a floral tribute on a stone stairwell at a side entrance with the words, “Love you all loads. Fly high” written in chalk on the steps.

There were also flowers laid out and a handwritten note to the teenagers with a picture of one of them.

Some of the students arriving at the campus were so overcome with grief they broke down in tears while hugging friends.

The words, ‘Love you all loads. Fly high’ were written on the stone staircase below a floral tribute at Shrewsbury College’s English Bridge campus (The Independent)

Local pizza restaurant Dough and Oil, where Harvey worked, was closed with the bosses posting a message on Instagram, describing the 17-year-old as “easy going, funny, gentle, bright, hard-working and humble”.

“Our love, thoughts and condolences go out to Harvey’s family and to those of his friends, their lives so full of promise cut so tragically short,” they added.

A short walk to the town’s historic Market Square, a stage and Christmas lighting had been set up for the annual switch-on, but a sign was up advising the event had been cancelled due to the tragedy.

People stood nearby, looking at the empty stage and talking quietly to each other about what police believe was an accident at Garreg in Snowdonia.

Shopper Paul Rowson, 51, summed up the feeling. “It feels different today, I was on the bus earlier and no one was really speaking,” he said.

“Shrewsbury is a close town and everyone will be feeling what’s happened in some way.”

Preparations were well underway for the Christmas lights switch-on, which was cancelled on Wednesday morning (The Independent)

The four teenagers had attended Meole Brace School, in the southwestern part of the town. At the nearby Trinity Centre, part of Trinity Churches group, a “quiet place” was opened with candles and a tree of remembrance messages left by mourners.

The venue was opened ahead of another remembrance event in the town, at Oxon Church where vicar Rev Charlotte Gompertz said she knew some of the families involved.

“It is going to take a long time for us to get our heads even vaguely around this tragedy,” she said.

People left notes of remembrance for the four teenagers on a tree at Trinity Centre (The Independent)
Shrewsbury Abbey parish administrator Steve Swinden said the teenagers’ deaths had ‘shocked everyone‘ (The Independent)

At Trinity Centre, vicar Phil Cansdale said more than 50 mourners had turned up to leave messages in memory of the teenagers. He said: “As a group of churches, we’re trying to give support to a hurting but beautiful Shrewsbury community.”

Back at the town’s historic abbey, as the day went on more candles were left with more people visiting.

Parish administrator Steve Swinden said: “It’s shocked everyone, in Shrewsbury, the county, the whole country even. These were four young lads enjoying their lives, but taken so tragically and suddenly.”

He added: “Shrewsbury is like a big village, it’s got a tight-knit community and I know many people are hurting right now and will do so for some time – but we are here for them.”

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