Friends of murdered Ballykelly teenager Jonathan Cairns have broken their silence about his brutal death which they say “brought an abrupt end” to their “innocence and childhood”.
Speaking ahead of Jonathan’s 17th anniversary on Monday, they reveal the impact his violent death had on their tight-knit circle of friends.
One friend, Sarah, told the ‘Journal’ “they never thought such darkness existed”.
“The friendship bonds in teenage years have a significance and intensity that is boundless. We were a large group of young people growing up in a well integrated environment in a safe and slow moving little village much like any other,” said Sarah.
“We were coming of age and full of fun and energy. We busied ourselves with making plans for the weekend and enjoying long, lazy summers. Jonathan was popular; he was easygoing with a wry sense of humour. He was bright and strong and kind. He had a warmth that was infectious. I look back and am astonished at our innocence. We never thought that such darkness existed, that this beautiful golden-haired youth could be cut down in such a brutal way. His murder brought an abrupt end of innocence and childhood. He should have a family of his own like many of us have.
“We should pass each other at the school gates or the post office. He should have travelled and laughed and danced. His doting family were robbed and so was Jonathan.”
Jonathan’s friend Kate said: “He was a good friend and he was bright, kind and full of fun. There wasn’t a bad bone in his body. Certain things remind me of him - certain songs - and the good times we all had as friends all out together having fun. His brutal death tore our close group of friends apart, it was never the same again. I think it ripped the heart out of a lot of people.”
Police met with the Cairns family at their home in Ballykelly yesterday afternoon to update them on the investigation.
The only person ever convicted in connection with Jonathan’s death was Philip Charles Joseph McGroarty, from Ballykelly, who was sentenced to five years in 2002 when he was found guilty of helping to dispose of Jonathan’s body.
The officer leading the investigation, Detective Superintendent John McVea, from PSNI Serious Crime Branch, has issued a fresh appeal, urging anyone with information to come forward to police.
Speaking to the Journal, DCI McVea said: “The investigation remains open. A team of detectives is ready and willing to follow up on any new information which is forthcoming from the community in Ballykelly about Jonathan’s murder. Even after all this time, it is not too late to get justice for Jonathan and his family.”
Jonathan’s parents, Raymond and Hazel urge people to think back to the Saturday night and Sunday morning of 24/25 April, 1999.
“Police must have had good reason to re-open the case and, as long as it is open, we have hope. You can’t give up. Hope is all you have,” says Hazel, now 65.
Jonathan’s father, Raymond, aged 69, said: “It’s always in your head, always there to haunt you. It’s just the fact someone could be so evil. Jonathan was a good fella. He had a good future. He should be here,” he said. “There was no reason for what happened, but people know who did it. You live in hope they will do the right thing.”