Thursday 14 December 2017

'Handsome, strong, healthy' teenager dies of drug that turned pals into 'zombies'

Tributes paid to 18-year-old student Alex after he loses his fight for life

Tragic Alex Ryan
Tragic Alex Ryan
No 4, St Patrick's Terrace, Cork city, the house in which the drug party took place last week Photo: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Maeve Sheehan and Claire Mc Cormack

Tributes flooded social media for Alex Ryan, an 18-year-old student who died yesterday after taking a psychoactive drug at a party in Cork. Video clips posted on his Facebook page were of a handsome, strong and healthy young man, fun-loving and popular.

"The last thing I wanted to hear today! You did not deserve this. I will miss you so much buddy, R.I.P xxx," wrote one of his friends. Another posted photos of happy times with Alex: "An angel was gained in heaven today."

Alex, who is from Millstreet, north Cork, was one of six people between the ages of 18 and 37 who were rushed to hospital in the early hours of last Tuesday morning after taking 2C1. The other five appear to have escaped the excesses of the drug.

The events that unfolded in the house were later vividly and shockingly described by an eyewitness, Gerard Banks; blood on the walls, violent abandon and wild oblivion. According to garda sources, at one point the students cut themselves with broken glass from a mirror.

Banks was an innocent passer-by who found himself plunged into a nightmare on Pouladuff Road.

Read more: At risk - teenagers and drugs: Blood on the walls, insanity on the street

He was still reeling from what he witnessed when he heard the news yesterday of Alex's death in a private Facebook message from his sister. She thanked Banks for what he had tried to do for her brother.

"I am looking at this like we need to learn from this. I have seen how these people lost control of themselves and that is the scary thing," he said.

Banks was with his friend, a Polish man, in the Greenmount area, walking along Pouladuff Road and past a row of houses called St Patrick's terrace.

They heard screaming and shouting coming from one of the houses. But it wasn't the usual roars of drunken teenagers.

The noise was so "crazy", Banks later recalled, so loud and so piercing that he and his pal peered through the window to see what was going on.

What they saw was "like a scene from CSI". "The bedroom was covered in blood, curtains, floor. It was destroyed, it was everywhere," he later told Neil Prendeville's Red FM radio show in a graphic interview.

"We started yelling in the window, is everything okay, what's going on? A guy came to the window. You could see that he was on drugs and off his head. He wasn't as bad as the rest of them but at least he had the cop on to leave us in and have a look."

As soon as they crossed the threshold, events became surreal. Blood was everywhere, covering the walls and floor. Roars and screams came from the front room. They walked inside to see a young man standing there naked. He was covered in blood. His face was cut and bruised - "as though he'd had a smack on the head".

Read more: 'N-bomb' partygoers thought they'd bought different drug

Beyond him, a girl covered in blood was dancing naked on the couch. "I didn't know if it was her blood or someone else's blood. There were such large quantities of blood there," Banks said.

On the floor a young man lay on his back, apparently struggling to breathe and his body "jittering and shaking". This was Alex Ryan.

The others were "completely out of it", according to Banks, and therefore oblivious to their critically ill friend: "They didn't know they were covered in blood. They didn't know they were hurt. They didn't know that there was a guy on the ground who looked like he was in cardiac arrest."

In all there were four young people in the house, all clearly drugged. Banks and his Polish friend luckily were able to keep their cool and tried to help. Banks' Polish friend learned first aid at school. Banks is involved in positive mental health and teaches yoga.

"The first thing my friend did was ran to the guy who was on the ground because he looked like he was going to stop breathing any moment soon," he said.

"I started controlling the room them, and just calming everyone down to keep my friend safe, but also to try to calm these people down. The guy who was there who was naked, even when he was jumping around, there was a bike on the ground, and he was cutting himself and he didn't even realise this. He was cutting himself and he didn't even realise..."

Unknown to Banks and his friend, neighbours had already called the guards.

Banks opened the door to them. As the two gardai took in the blood on the walls, the shouting, they seemed to him to be shocked. Soon after that the paramedics came.

Everyone was in a heightened state of shock, and growing concerned for the clearly critically ill young man. Remembering the scene last Wednesday, he said at one point, "we didn't know if he was going to survive or not".

All that time, the other three had "no idea what they were doing", according to Banks.

"That was the scariest thing. They didn't feel anything. They didn't know what they were doing. They were dancing and it was as if the party was great and they were having a great time even though your man was on the ground and there was blood everywhere."

The four young people were taken in ambulances to hospital. They were not the only young people on that drug.

The crew of emergency vehicles and flashing lights on St Patrick's Terrace attracted attention, and, according to Banks, other people emerged from a nearby house who had also taken the same drug.

Six were taken to hospital, five were discharged but tragically Alex remained in a critical condition.

The drug that killed Alex has been circulating in Ireland for a while. It is 2C1 - a form of psychedelic phenethylamine - that had been circulating in the city, and goes by the street name NBOM. It is sold in liquid, powder and tablet form. The stuff in circulation in Cork that night was in a powder. The drug is said to be more lethal when it is snorted, rather than ingested.

The HSE later issued a public health warning about the 2C family of drugs. The side effects included paranoia, hallucinations, gastrointestinal effects and kidney problems, and there are also problems with purity and contaminants.

The World Health Organisation has reported a number of deaths from the drug in other countries, including Australian, Britain and the United States.

Last week, gardai in Cork arrested a 28-year-old man who is suspected of dealing the drug. He was later released without charge. The garda investigation may take a different turn following the death of Alex Ryan.

Fr John Fitzgerald, the Millstreet parish priest, said the community were shocked and saddened by Alex's death. "It's very, very sad news. There was a lot of uncertainty in the town last night, people were just waiting to hear.

"There will be a lot of shock and sadness among his peers. It's such a tragic loss of a precious young life," he said, adding that Alex was a student at Millstreet Community School.

Fr Fitzgerald said he intended to make contact with the family and intended to visit them this week to offer them his support.

According to Gerard Banks, the story of how the drugs affected those young people that night was "shocking" but "it is story that needs to be told to actually prevent other people getting into the same situation".

Right now, Alex's family are grieving their tragic loss and they have asked for privacy.

Sunday Independent

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