Connor McCafferty was “laughing and carrying on” one minute, the next he was gone.
He disappeared into the darkness of the water at Creggan reservoir during what was supposed to be a fun midnight swim with friends just over a year ago.
Several hours later his lifeless body was recovered from an underwater ledge by a police dive team as his distraught family and friends looked on.
“The last person to see Connor alive said he was laughing and carrying on and told him ‘go on out of the water, I’ll be ok’,” the drowned teenager’s mum Angela said as she revisited the scene at Creggan Country Park this week.
“Hypothermia had already set in and he wouldn’t have known, it’s heartbreaking,” she added.
Angela got the call every parent dreads most at around 1am.
“On the night the O2 mobile network was down and I don’t know to this day how my son Barry [Connor’s only sibling] was able to phone me. I answered the phone and all I heard were the words ‘Connor’ and ‘reservoir’ and immediately put the phone down and headed over. It was my worst nightmare. When I got there, it was total chaos and for whatever reason I just got into mode and started telling people to get out of the water. His were friends in their boxer shorts and were jumping in and out of the cold water, they were distraught, it was chaos.”
Angela and her family were “devastated” to hear that Connor had drowned. Hours passed as they waited at the water’s edge for an emergency police dive team to arrive from Belfast to search the reservoir.
“It was heartbreaking to know Connor was in there all that time. The waiting was very hard. When the divers arrived his friends pointed exactly to the spot where he went down. It was 5.30am when they set up and 6am when they brought Connor out. My wee boy was only wearing his boxer shorts.” Angela said.
Angela later had to formally identify her son’s body. “There are no words in the dictionary to explain the emotions of having to go and identify my son’s body, it’s not natural to have to do that,” she said.
“I thought I knew what grief was when my mother and father died but to lose a son was a total different kind of grief.”
The last 12 months have been difficult for Angela and her family as well as Connor’s many friends and his loving girlfriend, his mum said.
“Connor was so happy, he was known as a gentle giant, as he was 6’3”, and had so many close friends. He was very much in love with his girlfriend Sarah. Connor was so good, he was so kind, he would have done anything for anybody - that’s just the way he was. He is missed by so many people.”
Connor’s friends told Angela that it had been his first time getting in to the water at the reservoir and that he always told the others “to get out” because of the dangers.
Angela and her family were at “rock bottom” in the weeks and months following the loss of Connor. “Looking back I can see the small steps we’ve taken forward. It’s been so tough.
“There were very dark days at the start, it was emotionally draining. We’ve all come on a year later but the grief is still there, it comes in waves but all of Connor’s friends and the community has been so supportive and that’s been such a help.”
Connor is remembered at home each and every morning and evening. “I still say good morning and good night to Connor every day, and I’ll never stop,” Angela said.
A plaque in memory of Connor McCafferty is to be dedicated by his girlfriend Sarah and friends on a bench near his grave in the City Cemetery.
An inscription will read: ‘Goodbyes are not the end, Goodbyes are not forever, They simply mean we miss you until we meet again. Love you Connor”