Four floppy-haired boys in search of adventure. An impromptu camping trip in Snowdonia. Maybe not exactly official – one of them at least wasn’t exactly up front about the details – but he’d be back before the parents got wind. Wouldn’t they?
When the alarm went up on Sunday that Jevon Hirst, Harvey Owen, Wilf Henderson and Hugo Morris, all sixth form students at Shrewsbury College, were missing, every mother, every father in the land held their collective breath.
In empathy. In shock. In there-but-for-the-grace-of-God fear. We willed, hoped and prayed they would be found. Drenched, cold, maybe bruised but safe. Just safe. High jinks and a lesson learnt.
After all, how often do we harangue our teenagers to get off their phones? To stop lounging around indoors and get some fresh air? To ditch the technology and burn off their youthful energy outdoors?
And then, suddenly, these boys were gone and out of contact. The prickling realisation that they were unreachable. The hours of anguish, the sleepless nights, the two days of dread before police announced their vehicle had been found.
Nothing more was said. But we knew. We knew long before the heartbreaking announcement that four bodies had been recovered from a silver Ford Fiesta, which appeared to have left the road on the A4085 at Garreg, near Tremadog.
Truth be told, it jarred when broadcasters referred to them as four “men”. Yes, but hardly. Seventeen years old perhaps, but really just overgrown kids, tousled and grinning boyishly from their photos; their faces indelibly now seared on the nation’s retinas.
United in unspeakable tragedy, these four shining boys will never grow up. Their lives have been cut monstrously short. Hopes, dreams, ambitions snuffed out.
How can any of us truly understand the horror of their stricken families? As the rescue services leave and the media glare fades, they must come to terms with the terrible knowledge their beloved sons perished in an overturned, partially submerged car.
Their bewildered friends are reeling. Their classmates struggling. A community has been plunged into mourning at these senseless, random deaths.
It is said that when a parent dies, you lose your past. But when a child dies, you lose your future. The grief that now grips the parents of Jevon and Harvey, Wilf and Hugo is our worst nightmare come true.
All we can do is hug our own sons and daughters a little more fiercely. And say a prayer for the living, whose pain and desolation will never go away.