The five-year-old boy from Ballymena who died after falling into the River Braid on Saturday will be remembered by his parents as a “happy-go-lucky” son who “just melted your heart”.
Kayden Fleck fell into the river near the Ecos Centre at around 1pm, prompting a large-scale effort from the emergency services and public to rescue him.
He spent close to two hours in the water before he was taken from the river some miles downstream and airlifted to Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children where he later died.
His parents Darrel and Leanne described Kayden and his twin brother Jayden as the “two musketeers”.
The family issued a statement via the PSNI in which they paid tribute to the tragic five-year-old who was a pupil at Harryville Primary School, describing him as “happy-go-lucky”, “your average wee boy” and someone who “just melted your heart”.
The family thanked each of the agencies who were involved in the search and rescue operation on Saturday.
They also said they are grateful for the community support they have received since then.
While the statement about Kayden’s death came from the Fleck family, many paying tribute to the schoolboy called him Kayden McGowan.
In a statement on Facebook, Kayden’s school – Harryville Primary School – said: “Please remember the McGowan family in your thoughts and prayers at this very sad time as they mourn the loss of wee Kayden.
“The whole school community is remembering you at this sad time.”
UUP leader Robin Swann called on the entire community to “rally around the family circle of young Kayden McGowan pulled from the Braid river over the weekend and who passed away in hospital by remembering the family circle in their thoughts and prayers”.
The North Antrim Assemblyman said he extended his condolences on behalf of himself and his party to the family circle on “their devastating and tragic loss”.
Mr Swann added: “In the midst of this terrible tragedy, I also commend all the efforts of the emergency services, air ambulance crew, police and hospital staff.”
TUV leader Jim Allister, who like Mr Swann is an MLA for North Antrim, said: “My heart goes out to the local family in Ballymena who lost their young boy in Saturday’s river tragedy.
“What an awful situation. To lose a child must be nigh unbearable. The emergency services were marvellous but it was not to be enough. So sad.”
Ballymena councillor Declan O’Loan of the SDLP said: “I want to extend my deepest sympathy to the family of Kayden McGowan after the terrible tragedy which transpired on Saturday.
“I also want to extend my sympathy to the family of Harryville Primary School who are also very shocked by this tragic incident.
“The whole of Ballymena I know feels deeply for all concerned.”
The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service said it had been alerted to a report on Saturday at 1pm that a five-year-old boy had fallen into the River Braid in Ballymena.
NIAS despatched an A&E crew, a BASICS doctor and the air ambulance to the scene to assist in a multi agency search and rescue for the boy.
Kayden was recovered from the water and at 3pm was airlifted by air ambulance to the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children, where he tragically passed away.
PSNI Inspector Shaf Ali said: “I would like to thank everyone involved in the search effort and extend my sincerest condolences to the family at this time.”