The family of a ‘bubbly’ 12-year-old girl stabbed to death moments after Liverpool’s Christmas lights were switched on tonight spoke of their devastation.
As four schoolboys as young as 13 were quizzed today on suspicion of Ava White’s murder, traumatised friends and relatives were still in deep shock at what had happened.
Merseyside Police said she suffered ‘catastrophic injuries’ in the attack following an argument in the city at 8.39pm on Thursday, shortly after the lights switch on took place.
Earlier today, flowers were being laid on Church Street in tribute to the Notre Dame Catholic College pupil, as forensics officers and police searched the scene.
A balloon was left by 17-year-old Lacey, who did not want to give her surname, who said her younger sister had been close friends with Ava.
She said: ‘She was just a bubbly character, so loving and caring.
‘She came out with her friends to enjoy herself and I think it’s just wrong that this has happened.’
Four boys, one aged 13, two aged 14 and one 15-year-old, remain in custody after they were arrested on suspicion of murder.
Rebecca Flynn, headteacher of Ava’s former school, Trinity RC Primary, said: ‘Our prayers and thoughts are with Ava’s family and her friends. We are left with lasting memories of a bright and respectful little girl.’
Assistant Chief Constable Ngaire Waine said the incident was ‘sad for the city’ but ‘even sadder’ for Ava’s family.
She said: ‘We will put everything we can to ensure we get justice for her but then I’m sure we will be looking at whether there were things we could have done, or our partners could have done, that might have made a difference, because we never want another 12-year-old, here or anywhere else, to be murdered when they are out and about having fun with their friends.’
Detective Superintendent Sue Coombs, who is leading the investigation, said Ava had been involved in a ‘verbal argument’ which escalated into an ‘assault on her with a knife’, but a weapon had not yet been recovered.
She said: ‘We are able to say there has been a verbal argument and there has been an assault, and the offenders ran off up School Lane, across Hanover Street and into Fleet Street.’
The four teenagers were arrested during the course of the evening and early hours of Friday, she said.
Ava was taken to Alder Hey Children’s Hospital after paramedics arrived, but died a short time later.
Mary Katilius, 65, from Limerick, in Ireland, said she had been in Liverpool city centre with her 18-year-old granddaughter when the attack happened.
She said: ‘We heard screams and someone said to call an ambulance. My granddaughter said she saw some young guys running off. ‘We rushed over straight away but there was already a man helping her.’
Ms Coombs said officers would be trawling through hundreds of hours of CCTV and urged members of the public who were in the city centre to check their phones for photos and footage which might help the investigation.
Alan Walsh, a prominent knife crime campaigner, youth worker and boxing gym owner, said he began fielding calls shortly after midnight from young people who were at the scene.
He said: ‘They were just walking past, some of them were just 13, and they are just traumatised. I have taken about 12 calls since last night.
‘I am just numb. I feel terrible for her family, but also it’s the underlying trauma going on behind it as well. You just can’t comprehend it.
‘The ripple effect of this will be felt for a lifetime. I took my first text message at 12.09am this morning asking for help.
‘Please any young person who has witnessed this horrific incident and needs support please get in touch, we will get you councillors and psychologist help,’ he told the Liverpool Echo.
When police arrived at the scene, they found Ava, who was with friends, collapsed on the ground and receiving first aid from a member of the public.
Paramedics attended and she was taken to Alder Hey Children’s Hospital where she died a short time later.
Assistant Chief Constable Jon Roy said: ‘Our thoughts and condolences go out to Ava’s family, who are being supported by specialist family liaison officers.
‘Their world has been torn apart and no parent should ever have to face that knock on the door from police officers to say that their child has died.
‘We believe that Ava and her friends had been involved in a verbal argument which culminated in Ava being assaulted causing catastrophic injuries.
‘And we understand that the offenders were then seen to run up School Lane across Hanover Street and on to Fleet Street.
We have arrested four males aged, one aged 13 years, two aged 14 years and one aged 15 from Toxteth, on suspicion of murder and they are currently being interviewed at police stations on Merseyside.
‘Liverpool City Centre was very busy at the time of the incident as the lights on the Christmas tree on Church Street had been officially switched on a short while earlier and we would appeal to anyone who was on Church Street who saw the incident, or may even have captured it on their mobile phone, to come forward.’
A Home Office post-mortem is due to be carried out to establish the cause of death.
Mr Roy added: ‘An extensive cordon remains in place at the scene, which includes Williamson Square, Tarleton Street, Church Street, Church Alley, School Lane crossing over Hanover Street on to Fleet Street, whilst forensic experts continue their examinations.
‘We will endeavour to release the scene as soon as is practically possible, but we would ask members of the public for their understanding and patience whilst our investigations are being carried out so that we can bring justice for Ava and her family.’
Merseyside Police said there would be additional officers in the city over the coming days and in the run up to Christmas to provide reassurance.