News ‘Sweet kind, old soul’: Tributes flow for jumping castle victims amid indescribable loss

‘Sweet kind, old soul’: Tributes flow for jumping castle victims amid indescribable loss

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Tributes are flowing for the young victims of Tasmania’s jumping castle tragedy as the community rallies around the devastated families who lost their precious children.

Police said the Hillcrest Primary students fell from a height of about 10m when a freak gust of wind blew a jumping castle into the air, killing five children and leaving four in hospital.

Police and WorkSafe Tasmania are undertaking an investigation which Commissioner Darren Hine said would take “some time” as many witnesses would need to be interviewed.

The school in Devonport had been holding a ‘Big Day In’ celebration to mark the end of the year when parents were advised to urgently pick up their children after the fatal incident at about 10am.

The aunt of one of the victims, Meg Aherne, described her niece Addison as a “sweet kind, old soul” and said it was impossible to describe the loss.

Addison has been identified as one of the victims.

“Everyone is devastated,” wrote Mrs Aherne on a GoFundMe page.

“I have no idea how to express the sadness our family is feeling.

“We all love you Paddi Melon.”

Mrs Aherne’s GoFundMe campaign had raised $23,554 of a $50,000 goal by Friday morning to help her brother and sister-in-law pay for funeral costs and bills “while they try and navigate life without their precious daughter”.

“They have another daughter and son to take care of and I’m hoping to alleviate some of the stress of bills,” she wrote.

“Hopefully this will go some way into helping and Nath and Kylie when they truly need it the most.”

Zane is remembered as a gentle and caring soul.

Another of the students was named online as Zane, a “beautiful caring, gentle soul”.

A GoFundMe page started by Zane’s mother Georgie Gardam’s friends was aiming to raise $50,000 for the family.

“Zane was such a beautiful caring , gentle soul who had challenges growing up with his autism and ADHD but that never set him back, he kept achieving,” wrote Grace, Amber and Sarah-kate.

“This has shook so many people and the community and we want to do anything to help make things a little easier for her at this hard time.”

A separate GoFundMe page initiated by a member of the community with no links to the children had been flooded with donations that she said would be handed over to the Parents and Friends committee for distribution to the families.

By Friday morning it had raised $226,298, far exceeding its $100,000 goal.

Worksafe Tasmania officers (left) inspect the jumping castle at Hillcrest Primary School in Devonport. Photo: AAP

Police have not revealed many details about how the incident unfolded.

Commander Debbie Williams said it appeared the children fell from a height of about 10 metres and described the scene as very distressing and confronting.

Bob Smith, who lives near the school, told The Mercury newspaper there was “one really strong gust of wind on what (was) a beautiful calm day”.

“At first we thought it might have been an emergency services training exercise then the reality of what was happening kicked in,” he said.

Earlier, Commissioner Darren Hine confirmed the victims were two boys and two girls, and another five children were in hospital.

Later on Thursday evening police issued an update that a fifth child had died in hospital.

“These children were meant to be celebrating their last day of primary school, instead we’re all mourning their loss,” Mr Hine told reporters.

“Our hearts are breaking for the families and the loved ones, schoolmates, teachers, of these young people who were taken too soon.”

Police and WorkSafe Tasmania are investigating the incident and a report will be prepared for the state coroner, who has already inspected the scene.

An ambulance helicopter transported the young victims to hospital. Photo: AAP

Devonport’s Mayor Annette Rockliff said the tragedy was difficult to process and would “undoubtedly rock the close-knit community for a long time”.

“Our hearts are broken – there are no words to be honest,” Cr Rockliff said.

“As Mayor my heart aches for my community, as a mother and a grandmother, I am rocked to the core.

“What should have been a day full of fun and celebration for the last day of the school year, has ended in an unimaginable way.”

Cr Rockliff said the council would look for practical ways to help the Hillcrest Primary community into the future.

“While we can’t take away the anguish this part of our community is currently going through, we will be there in any way that we can,” Cr Rockliff said.

“I encourage us all to be there for each other, to offer support to your friends, your family, your neighbours, who are having a hard time processing the enormity of this situation.

“And to those who have been affected in any way, our hearts are with you.”

The council would fly the Australian flag at half-mast as a sign of mourning with its community.

Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein passed on his sympathies to loved ones.

“On a day when schoolchildren were celebrating the end of term so close to Christmas, it’s simply inconceivable something this shocking has occurred,” he said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the accident as unthinkably heartbreaking.

“Young children on a fun day out, together with their families and it turns to such horrific tragedy. At this time of year, it just breaks your heart,” he told reporters on the NSW Central Coast.

Tasmania’s Education Department will provide support to children, families and staff in coming days and into the school holidays, while counselling has also been offered to first responders.

“Our approach is being guided by our senior psychologists, who are trained in trauma-informed practice,” Secretary Tim Bullard said.

“What has occurred is a tragedy and there are no words that I can give that would take away the grief that those impacted families are feeling right now.”

-with AAP