Riley Gillespie who died during a Kingscliff High School PE class in November 2012.
Riley Gillespie who died during a Kingscliff High School PE class in November 2012.

Calls for a place to remember Riley

FAMILY and friends of a Kingscliff teenager who died during class almost three years ago, are calling for a permanent memorial to be built in his honour. 

Popular year 10 student Riley Gillespie died after collapsing on November 23, 2012, in a PE class in the water at nearby Cudgen Creek.

Teachers frantically attempted to revive the fit and active Year 10 student.

Further efforts at Tweed Heads Hospital by medical staff to save his life also failed.

Hours later a gasp of disbelief rippled through a hastily convened school assembly when the principal announced Riley's death.

Grandmother Judith Gillespie says: "The very sad part about that day, it was the Year 10 prom also that night and Riley had been so very excited about it, as was all his friends."

A post-mortem revealed Riley died of sudden death arrhythmic syndrome, which kills thousands of seemingly healthy people every year.

"He could have had it since he was a baby," Judith says.

Doctors urged the family to get all the children tested for the condition.

Judith said those who had been tested had been given the all-clear.

After losing Riley, his fellow Year 10 students fashioned a makeshift memorial in the park at the three trees where teachers had worked desperately to save his life.

They placed cards, candles, flowers, photos and other mementos.

Judith also had a brass plaque made declaring how much their "sweet boy" was missed - which was leant against the base of one of the trees.

Riley's friends and family frequently visit the site as he was cremated, so they have no grave to visit.

But last year two of the trees were cut down and the third is understood to be at risk of the same fate.

Riley's friends and family want to have a permanent memorial placed at the scene - the plaque attached permanently to a rock.

But Tweed Shire Council has rejected the idea on the grounds that it would create a precedent.

The council's manager recreation services Stewart Brawley said they averaged up to 15 such requests for public memorials a year.

Mr Brawley said if they were to grant the requests, the Tweed's parks, headlands and foreshores would be overrun with such tributes.

He said as much as the council empathised with grieving relatives, they only endorsed memorials of broad community significance, not for individuals.

He said other memorials in the shire had been erected without the council's authorisation but they didn't have an "active program of removing them" unless they received a complaint.

Council has proposed a compromise to the family in the form of a tree being planted in Riley's honour.

The council was yet to hear back from the family about this option, Mr Brawley said.

In March councillors voted to repaint a bridge at the entry to the village of Uki which had been painted in rainbow colours late last year by locals in memory of a youngster from the area who died at school a year before.

The councillors supported staff's recommendation to stick to council's policy on "zero tolerance to graffiti" and repaint the handrails on the Smiths Creek bridge "as resources permit".

In this case too, councillors argued that it would create a precedent that could see the shire inundated with similar tributes.

But Riley's family and friends want the council to re-consider its policy.

"There's already rocks there.

"What's the difference in another one with a plaque on it," asked Riley's friend Peyton Thorogood.

Riley's younger brother Zane said his sibling was full of life and fun and had planned a career in engineering.

The 16-year-old said while he would never forget him, Riley's loss had taught him to squeeze every drop of happiness out of life and not waste a moment.

"You get one (life) so why be sad?" says Zane.

"Don't remember that he's gone but just remember that he was here and what he did.

"He wouldn't want us to dwell on the sadness of him dying," agreed Peyton, 18.

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