'Mum is just a shell at the minute' - family lose two young sons in space of just three months
The sister of a Co Derry man who died in a one-vehicle car accident has said she believes he is "up in Heaven" with their six-year-old brother who passed away just three months ago.
Former St Colm's High School, Draperstown, pupil Reece Kelly (22) was pronounced dead at the scene on the Newferry Road near Bellaghy on Thursday.
The PSNI said that the incident occurred at around 5pm, when a BMW car carrying four men left the road.
Three others were taken to hospital with one described as being in a critical condition.
Reece's older sister Tara Devlin (27) said he had a "heart of gold".
She added that she didn't know how her family would cope with a second death in such a short space of time.
"The first we knew there might be something wrong was when a friend rang to say Reece was in a really bad accident, then police came to see my parents," heartbroken Tara recalled.
"I'm the eldest of eight siblings, and I went to the scene along with my mum, dad, three of my brothers and my wee sister.
"Reece's body was still there - the accident happened at 5pm and he wasn't removed until about 1.30am.
"We saw him at the scene in the back of a hearse in a body bag.
"It was a surreal experience.
"My mum collapsed, she was in shock.
"We could see he had serious injuries. We saw the car and I'm surprised anyone got out alive.
"Reece was a front-seat passenger.
"We know that he was trapped and the emergency services said it would have been pretty quick, which means he didn't suffer."
Reece's death came just 12 weeks after his little brother Seamus Thayaparan (6), who suffered from a genetic heart condition, passed away due to a heart valve infection while awaiting an operation.
"Seamus and Reece both had a genetic heart condition, as does my dad and another brother, but it was more serious for Seamus," Tara revealed.
"Seamus had special needs, he had already had heart surgery when he was two, but he had a bit of a growth on his heart valve and the infection went through the heart and attached to that.
"He had been in intensive care for three weeks and was waiting for surgery for a heart valve transplant when he died.
"It would have been his seventh birthday in December.
"I don't know how our family is going to get through all of this.
"My mum Martina Thayaparan's 50th birthday was last Saturday.
"She had already had a heart attack three months before we lost Seamus.
"She hasn't been the same since he passed away and she still hasn't opened her birthday cards.
"Mum is just a shell at the minute."
Tara said that her close-knit family was drawing comfort from the fact that the brothers have now been reunited in Heaven.
"It gives a wee bit of comfort that they are up in Heaven together, that Reece can look after Seamus," she added.
"His big brother Reece is up in Heaven looking after him, or else Seamus is showing Reece the ropes.
"They used to love wrestling with each other.
"I think that's what they are doing now."
Tara described Reece, who was a labourer, as a "really energetic" person who was "always trying to make everyone laugh".
Born in London, Reece came to Northern Ireland, his mother's homeland, at the age of 10 with the rest of the family.
"He was always on the go, you couldn't take him seriously," Tara added.
"He took care of all the younger siblings, he was always looking out for them.
"He was so kind and compassionate.
"He had a heart of gold.
"Words can't explain what the losses of Reece and Seamus have done to our family."
While details of Reece's funeral are yet to be released, Tara said that he will be laid to rest beside little Seamus at St Columba's Church in the village of Straw.