HUNDREDS of people packed a Burnley church as the town came together to say goodbye to 16-year-old Declan Edwards.
A community, first brought together to search for Declan after he went missing two weeks ago, united once more in the most tragic circumstances.
More than 400 people, many of them dressed in blue, the Unity College pupil’s favourite colour, squeezed into St Catherine’s Church, in Todmorden Road, on Saturday morning.
At least 100 more listened to the service on loud speakers in bright sunshine outside, with mourners stood 10 rows deep at the back of the church.
The seats had been filled half an hour before the 10am service, around the same time that Declan’s white coffin left his home in Waddington Avenue for his final journey.
A horse-drawn carriage, with the horses draped in claret and blue Burnley flags and the same colour headgear, passed Turf Moor, where Declan worked in catering on match days, on its way to the church.
As the coffin was carried in to the sound of dance track My Love, Declan’s mum, Mandy, and sister, Jessica, both wearing blue dresses, couldn’t hold back the tears.
MORE TOP STORIES:
His friends from Unity College hugged each other and put arms round shoulders, as some wiped away tears and others fell inconsolably into the grasp of others.
During the service, led by Father Roger Parker, tears mixed with laughter.
Unity College headteacher Sally Cryer remembered Declan’s ‘sense of humour’ and charisma in a eulogy that brought numerous bouts of laughter from his school friends, while sister Jessica told of her pain and pride in a heartbreaking written tribute.
Mrs Cryer said she had spoken to Declan’s family and friends after she had been asked to say a few words at the service.
She said: “When I think about Declan, Dec, Deccy, Ducklan, I smile because he bought a smile to everyone he met with his charm and his sense of humour.
“At college he never passed me without saying hello, stopping for a chat, or giving me one of those infectious smiles.
“Declan was charismatic, larger than life. Six foot one, a big friendly giant, a prefect at Unity, he had great leadership skills.
“He was extremely popular with students and staff and he was due to achieve excellent GCSE results this summer, and then due to start a two-year BTEC course with Burnley Football Club.
“He excelled at sport and had a passion for a career in that field.”
The congregation laughed as Mrs Cryer spoke of ‘image being everything’ to Declan, and him borrowing his sister’s hairdryer.
She also told of his concern at wearing blue to the college prom with his date, and that they might ‘end up looking like a couple of smurfs’, and of the time he turned up on an early morning run as part of prefect training wearing just a mankini. She said: “At 7am you can picture the scene.
“There are 60 students assembled and then there was a vision of Declan.
“He came round the corner in a mankini, a pair of Speedo’s – he said they were for his dignity – and a woolly hat to keep his head warm. It was a very cold morning.
“This shows the type of humour and outgoing personality Declan had, always wanting to have fun, always loves a joke, always has something funny to say or a smart comment.
“But he was also caring, sensitive and very loving. He didn’t leave the house without giving his mum a kiss.
“Mum would tuck him up in bed and have a chat about the day’s events, and he shared his love with all his family.
“His mates said he was a real mummy’s boy, and Declan was proud of that, really proud.
“I spoke to his family and his two cousins and his friends and the one thing they all said is that no matter what, he was always there for you.
“He will be sadly missed by all that knew him, and never forgotten.”
In a tribute read by Fr Parker, Jessica said: “To my beautiful baby brother, it hasn’t sunk in you’re gone. I don’t think it ever will.
“It pains me so much to think I will never see that big, beaming smile of yours, or hear you shout ‘mum, I’m hungry’.
“You were loved so dearly, and not just from me and mum but all the community.
“You touched many people’s hearts just for being you – a loving, caring, happy, beautiful, lovely boy. I’m so proud of you.
“You were one in a trillion and will always be, even though you are not with me anymore, you will always be in my heart.
“Love you all the stars, all the sky, all the universe.”
After the tributes mourners were asked to reflect on their own memories of Declan while ‘How Do I Live’ by LeAnn Rimes was played.
The hymn Morning Has Broken was sung, before the congregation left the church to ‘The World’s Greatest’ by R Kelly.
In a claret and blue order of service, adorned with the Burnley Football Club logo and a picture of Turf Moor, the poem ‘When Tomorrow Starts Without Me’, was printed, with the final words: ‘So when tomorrow starts without me, Don’t think we’re far apart, For every time you think of me, I’m right here in your heart.’ Declan’s body was found by police in Rowley Park, Burnley, on Thursday, May 8.
It followed a large-scale search after Declan went missing the weekend before, last seen by a friend in Towneley Park as he made his way home from a house party on the Sunday before at around 2pm.
A post-mortem examination showed the cause of death to be hanging. A full inquest will be heard on August 19.