Hundreds of ‘traumatised’ and heartbroken students are making their way home from the Greek island of Ios today and tomorrow following the tragic deaths of two of their school friends.
Local police confirmed that separate inquiries are under way into the deaths of the two 18-year-old classmates, Andrew O’Donnell and Max Wall.
The pair were on a post-Leaving Cert holiday with dozens of classmates from Dublin’s St Michael’s College when tragedy struck.
Tánaiste Micheál Martin yesterday said: ‘It is devastating and the most traumatic news that any parent could hear and it is every parent’s nightmare and many of our sons and daughters go abroad after Leaving Certificates and after exams.
‘Obviously many of their friends are out there in Ios and it’s a very, very difficult time for them now and we just ask them to look after each other over the next number of days and in the difficult time ahead.’
Devastating loss: Students comfort each other outside St Michael’s College in South Dublin
Tragic deaths: 18-year-old school friends Andrew O’Donnell, pictured with the family dog and, right, Andrew Wall
He said Andrew and Max had been ‘two outstanding young men with their lives ahead of them’ and that his thoughts and prayers were with the families and their friends.
Higher Education Minister Simon Harris said his thoughts were with the pupils in Greece who were ‘now encountering such shock and pain and grief’.
School principal Tim Kelleher said he had been told by the Tánaiste there are 1,000 students on the island, who were celebrating finishing their Leaving Cert, 90 of whom are from St Michael’s College.
He said news of the deaths had spread quickly among fellow students, adding: ‘They all want to leave. They were traumatised and people were saying I want to get home.
‘South Dublin is a small parish, all the schools know each other, they play against each other, they are friends with each other, there are older siblings and friends all over the area who are deeply devastated.
‘It is a tight-knit community. When something like this happens there is a lot of hysteria and a lot of fear and parents are ringing and everyone is traumatised especially the boys who were with Andrew and Max. They are traumatised.
‘They just want to come home and will be all home in the next 48 hours.’
The past president of St Michael’s Union, Tom McCormack, said it was the ‘darkest day’ in the school’s history.
He said: ‘It was a devastating day, we’ve been heartened by the volume of messages from Government ministers, councillors, senators, other schools.
‘Our sister school, St Mary’s, eight years ago had the Berkeley tragedy and we are now experiencing our darkest day.’
Hundreds of ‘traumatised’ and heartbroken students are making their way home from the Greek island of Ios (pictured) today and tomorrow following the tragic deaths of two of their school friends
Tributes: Flowers left at St Michael’s College in Ballsbridge, Dublin, where the two young men attended
Tributes have been paid to the two teenagers, Andrew O’Donnell and Max Wall, as ‘bright, sporting, academic’ young men
The Department of Foreign Affairs said the remains of Andrew and Max will be brought from the Cycladic isle to Athens at 8am today for a post mortem to determine the causes of their deaths.
They will then be released to their families later in the week and arrangements will be made to bring them home.
The Department of Foreign Affairs’ consular service will accompany the families.
Andrew had gone missing while apparently trying to find his way back to his accommodation alone, after a night out with friends in Hora.
He was last seen at around 1.30am on Saturday.
The alarm was raised with local police by his friends at around 9pm that evening when he failed to return.
Following a major search, his body was found in a gully at around 10.30am on Sunday morning, close to rocks at the foot of a cliff.
His body showed signs of having fallen but it was not known whether he had fallen from a height.
Police spokesman Konstantine Dimoglidou said: ‘He must have taken a wrong path.’
No sooner had that tragedy struck before Andrew’s classmate Max Wall collapsed while waiting for a ferry at the island’s port. The port is the only way to leave the island and Max was waiting to return to Athens to get a flight home when he was found unconscious at around 2pm on Sunday.
Emergency services rushed him to a local health centre where he was pronounced dead on arrival. Max had undergone successful heart surgery three years earlier.
The regional police directorate of the south Aegean area, which is handling the investigation, said it expected the post mortems to yield answers.
‘Andrew was found on a path between the port and town. It seems he fell,’ said Brigadier Thanos Loukas, the directorate’s commanding officer. ‘Max was found very close to the place where he was staying. We have since heard he had a history of heart problems but the answers lie in the autopsies. The cause of death in both cases will become clearer once they are carried out.’
Another police officer said witnesses who were with Max said the young man become very distressed when he was told the news about his friend.
He added: ‘Max collapsed when he heard what had happened. Everyone is saying what is true, that the incident is like an ancient Greek tragedy. The whole island is in shock.’ Mr Dimoglidou confirmed: ‘He just collapsed and died. He was taken to the local hospital and his death recorded.’
Minister for Education Norma Foley said there were ‘no words’ to describe the heartbreaking news.
Mr Kelleher said representatives of the school’s parent association had flown to the Greek island to support the families. He told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland: ‘We’re absolutely devastated, the entire community is reeling with the news.’
He described Andrew as a ‘fantastic young man, great sportsman, fantastic footballer’ who was academically bright, and had turned 18 less than a month ago.
He said: ‘The world was his oyster, he was looking forward to his holiday, looking forward to going to college – a very, very bright future. The boys had been searching for him and they got the worst possible news yesterday morning.’
He described Max as ‘very bright’, a ‘fantastic footballer’ who was ‘passionate about rugby’. He added: ‘Again, the world at his feet. Full of optimism and hope for the future. Unfortunately, both families got the news yesterday that their future had been taken from them and we’re obviously devastated for them, their family and friends and we’re here to help and support in any way we can over the next days and weeks.’
He said that the school was open for the week, that a book of condolences had been opened and supports are available to those who need them.
Bouquets of flowers have been placed at the school, where the Irish tricolour and the school flag are being flown at half mast outside the front door.
Mr Kelleher continued: ‘It’s exactly the nightmare that every parent dreads. You just don’t want to get that call to say your child is missing. But two of our families have had that call and we are devastated for them and our hearts are broken and our sympathy goes to them all.’
The news comes just one week after Rory Deegan died on the Greek island of Zakynthos.
The 22-year-old, from Co. Laois, was found unresponsive in a swimming pool and was later pronounced dead.