THEY went through the motions in Westport yesterday. Business was as normal, the weather was unremarkable. But there was nothing ordinary about life in the town yesterday.
A heaviness had hung about Westport as the overnight news spread of the second tragic death of a 15-year-old schoolboy.
They found young Michael Hopkins' body at the rear of a semi-derelict building at Mill Street; and immediately, everyone thought of Dylan Beirne.
Dylan's body had been found just a week earlier in the grounds of his school, Rice College on the outskirts of the town.
Michael and Dylan were close friends. They were in the same year in Rice College, knocked around together and told each other things.
Michael was badly cut up over the loss of his pal. Over the weekend he had visited his grave. Afterwards, he went to Dylan's Bebo site on the internet and posted: "RIP Dylan. Miss ya. Ya were a good friend."
On Monday, just a short time before his own death, Michael had returned to Dylan's page. He wrote: "We're all missin ya all da time nd we are always thinking about ya. RIP Man".
At Rice College yesterday they also went through the motions. Classes went ahead as scheduled and teachers did their best. The pupils who turned up also did their best. But nobody's heart was in it.
Counsellors from the National Educational Psychological Service had arrived early and conducted group and one-to-one sessions. Private practitioners and local voluntary organisations from the Westport area also arrived unannounced to help out, as did parents -- all anxious to help, all anxious to deal with the situation as sensitively as possible.
"It has been a really heartwarming response from the entire community and we are very grateful", said retired Principal Frank McCarrick.
He had quit at the end of the year to enjoy early retirement, but like everyone else, had shown up when most needed.
He offered a brief statement to reporters expressing the deepest sympathy of the entire school community to the Hopkins family.
At midday the entire school population had gathered for a prayer service in memory of Michael Hopkins and in support of his family.
College Chaplain, Fr Micheal Mannion had gone to personally console the family after receiving the news on Monday evening. They were devastated, he said.
"They are shattered and all we can do is be with them and offer them our prayers and support and be with them at this time. It is a very difficult time for them", Fr Mannion added.
In the Westport area a programme has just been put in place to identify youngsters who might be at risk.
Based on a Canadian model, the ASSIST programme is geared towards training leaders and figures in the community with whom young people have contact -- from teachers, to gardai, to publicans and sports coaches.
Mindful of the pressures faced by young people nowadays, the community in Westport has been anything but lax in attempting to get up to speed on the crises faced by teenagers.
But sometimes, not even our best efforts are enough.
l The Samaritans provide confidential support to anyone suffering emotional crisis. Tel: 1850 60 90 90