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'He was happy and loving': Headteachers' emotional tributes to young Stafford fire victims

By Harry Leather | Stafford | News | Published: | Last Updated:

Riley Holt, Keegan Unitt, Tilly Unitt and Olly Unitt all died when a fire ripped through their family home.

Top: Tributes left near the scene. Bottom: Victims Keegan, Tilly, Olly and Riley

The teachers of the children killed in a house fire in Stafford have paid emotional tributes to the four young siblings.

Riley Holt, Keegan Unitt, Tilly Unitt and Olly Unitt, all died when a fire ripped through the house they lived in with mother Natalie Unitt in the early hours of this morning.

Ms Unitt, 24, partner Chris Moulton, 28, and baby Jack survived after jumping out of a first-floor window during the blaze.

The house was left with major damage

Police and firefighters are investigating what started the blaze and, now the victims have been officially identified, the childrens' former headteachers have paid tribute.

Nicola Glover is the headteacher at Castlechurch Primary School, where Riley, eight, went to school and Tilly and Olly, aged four and three, went to nursery.

Devastated

She said: “Our entire school community is absolutely devastated by this news.

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“Riley was a very confident, excitable member of school who came everyday full of enthusiasm.

"He was a caring friend who hated to see anyone hurt or upset and would do his best to help or cheer them up.

Left to right: Keegan, six, Tilly, four, Olly, three, and Riley, eight, all died in the fire. Baby brother Jack survived.

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Teddy bears and flowers left in tribute

"Riley had a great sense of humour and an infectious giggle.

"He was a very bright and articulate boy who showed interest in all areas and was always keen to ask lots of questions.

“Tilly was a happy little girl who loved coming to nursery. She was a friendly and caring child who loved to read stories, dress up and paint. Tilly was always proud of her achievements.

Tributes left near the scene
Neighbours arrive to leave tributes at the scene

“Olly was a happy, loving boy who loved cuddles. He was always happy to come to nursery and loved to be in the role play area with the dolls.

“We have put in place support in school for staff and pupils, to help anyone who feels affected.

"Support from Staffordshire County Council’s educational psychologists will also be made available if required.

"Our sympathies are with the children’s family and friends at this unimaginably difficult time.”

'Full of fun'

Kim Ellis is headteacher at Marshlands Special School where six-year-old Keegan was a pupil.

She said: “Keegan was lively, full of fun and mischief with a really endearing smile.

Police and firefighters at the scene

"He loved school and everyone who worked with him loved him. We were all proud of him and the progress that he had made. It is very hard to accept what has happened.

"Our school community are understandably devastated and our thoughts and prayers are with his family. We are also putting support in place to help our staff and fellow pupils at this difficult time.”

Prayers

Meanwhile, around 20 people gathered at Castle Church to pray for the family as tributes of flowers and teddy bears were left near the scene.

Reverend Philip Sowerbutts said: “It is a difficult time, this is a real tragedy.

Rev Philip Sowerbutts

“It’s always a tragedy when children are involved, and we need to pray for those left behind, the effect on them will be enormous.

“As a former teacher I also want to thank those that are looking after the children in our community affected by this.

“This is a very tight community, so this will be huge for them. The community is in shock. We will unite and come together.”

WATCH: Neighbours left in shock

Stafford house fire: Relatives and neighbours describe shock after four children killed

Barbara Boote, who has been part of the church for 34 years, said: “This is the kind of thing where you hope people will come out, reach out and support one another.

“People are hurting and suffering in the community.”

Many of the tributes left near Sycamore Lane, where the family lived in a two-story end-terrace house, were accompanied by handwritten notes.

Flowers left in tribute

One, left by ambulance dispatcher Lamara Shelley, said: “RIP beautiful angels. I don’t know you personally but I was involved in last nights incident. I work in the ambulance service and was involved in getting the correct resources to try and help save you.

"I am so gutted we couldn’t save you all. I hope your family can remain strong and you will remain in everyone’s hearts forever.”

Another one read: “Rest in paradise Keegan, Riley, Tilly and Olly. Heaven has gained four beautiful angels. Thinking of you and Chris and Jack.”

An aerial view showing the aftermath of the fire

Neighbour Ray Oldacre said: “It’s just so sad, especially children. Just starting out on life and suddenly their opportunity is gone.

“I’ve lived round Highfields for a very long time and I know lots of people here. They’re my friends and neighbours. So it’s like losing a member of your community - that’s exactly what is it. And not just one but a number of young lives.”

He added: “It’s tragic enough for the parents who have got to live with it - that’s the tragedy isn’t it.”

Investigation

Police and firefighters are investigating what caused the blaze, which started at around 2.30am and caused a large section of the roof to collapse.

Staffordshire Police said that a woman aged 24, understood to be Ms Unitt, and a man aged 28, understood to be Mr Moulton, were being treated in hospital but their injuries were not believed to be life-threatening.

A fifth child, believed to be two-year-old Jack, was also being treated but is not thought to have been seriously injured.

Meanwhile thousands of pounds has been raised after a JustGiving page was set up for the family this morning.

Harry Leather

By Harry Leather
Digital Editor - @hleather_star

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