Northern Ireland news

Family's grief as heroin robs baby girl of father

Christopher Connor holds a picture of Aaron (21) who died on Saturday. Picture by Mal McCann

A 21-YEAR-OLD west Belfast father who died after being found unconscious in the city centre “could have had a different life if he had got the help he needed” after battling drug addiction, his family have said.

Aaron Connor from Lenadoon died from a suspected heroin overdose on Saturday.

He was found collapsed in the toilets of a Starbucks cafe in Cornmarket at around 2.30pm. Staff tried to revive him but he died in the Royal Victoria Hospital.

His parents Christopher and Paula wanted to tell his story in the hope that it can “serve as a warning” to others.

“We don’t want another family to go through this. If we can stop this happening to another young person,” Christopher said.

Aaron Connor (21) from Lenadoon in west Belfast who died recently. Picture by Mal McCann

Aaron, who had battled drug addiction for five years, had only been released from prison the day before he died. He had served a sentence for breaking a window of a hostel.

“Aaron went to jail two weeks ago but because he had no bail address they kept him in and he was up in court on Friday,” Christopher said.

Read More: Top medic voices concerns that heroin use in Northern Ireland has 'got a hold'

"He phoned me from jail on Thursday and I said to him, 'you get yourself home when you get out' and he said 'tell Mum I love her'.

"He was sentenced to a month and because he'd been in custody, they let him out on Friday.

"But he didn't come home on Friday or Saturday.

The young man was found collapsed in Starbucks in Belfast city centre. Picture by Hugh Russell

“I was ringing round to see where he was but nobody knew. He had his bank card with him and we think he must have had money on the card and bought drugs,” he said.

“He had gone into Starbucks and was found collapsed in the toilets. The staff tried to help him. They really did.

“He’d obviously taken too much and paid the price with his life.”

While the family have been told it could take five months before toxicology results are known, Christopher said they are aware drugs paraphernalia, including needles and a spoon, were found beside Aaron’s body and they believe he had taken heroin.

Christopher said Aaron had enjoyed sport as a boy but in recent years “the drugs just took over”.

“He loved his running. He ran for Beechmount Harriers and was third in the All-Irelands one year,” he said.

“He was a very talented cross-country runner. He was even picked to carry the Olympic Torch when it came to Northern Ireland before the 2012 Olympics.

“Aaron worked as a trainee bricklayer but lost his job because of the drugs.

“We don’t believe in drugs in our house. I was always on his case to get off the grass, always telling him ‘You can’t do drugs’.

“We knew he did grass and he’d been on it for a while but he progressed onto prescription medication. Aaron had ADHD and was mixing his medication for street medication and then got onto heroin a couple of months ago.

“He ended up moving into a hostel but he still came home. We did his washing for him and he loved going to the gym with me.

“Aaron had a beautiful body. He could have been a model. He was a vegan and was always saying to me ‘Dad, you shouldn’t be eating that sort of thing’. He was into his health stuff, always clean-shaven and kept himself spick and span.

“Aaron was a young, young boy that just got lost.”

Paula spoke about the lack of support for people with drug addiction in the north.

“There’s nothing here, no help for people battling drugs. You have to go to Scotland,” she said.

“He could have had a different life if he had got the help he needed. It all just spiralled out of control for him.”

Christopher said “drugs are too widely available”.

“There’s not enough being done to help them. It’s an awful situation,” he said.

“We tried to help him but there’s just not enough services. There’s no help.

“You want to wrap your children up in cotton wool but you can’t.”

Aaron had a seven-month-old daughter, Freya.

“He was a young dad with his whole life ahead of him,” Christopher said.

“He was always known in the family as his mum’s special person. He was a beautiful young man. He was spoilt and wanted for nothing.

“I don’t think he meant to kill himself but his body obviously couldn’t take it.

“Heroin is going to take over this place. It’s cheap and readily available and young people are just being sucked into it.”

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