A heartbroken mother whose teenage boy was stabbed to death while buying sweets pleaded tonight for his killers to be captured.
Thomas Devlin, 15, was knifed five times in the back in front of friends and left to die on a north Belfast street. One of his friends was also injured.
Murder squad detectives have arrested two men and a youth but stressed there was no evidence of a sectarian motive behind last night’s attack.
As the suspects were questioned, Thomas’ mother, Penny Holloway, revealed her family’s agony and disbelief.
She said: “He was such a lovely, good-natured, bright and kind-hearted boy.
“For his life to be snuffed out like this is unbelievable. We’re just devastated.
“He had his whole future in front of him.
“Police have told us they don’t have a motive, but if anyone knows about this please, please give police that information.”
Mrs Holloway, who works in industrial relations, and her BBC technician husband Jim Devlin spent the day trying to comfort their other two children, a twin boy and girl aged 19.
Thomas’ pet dog, a Great Dane called Rosie, wandered their house searching for her young master.
A talented musician who played the horn, the teenager attended Belfast Royal Academy where he was about to begin his GCSE year.
But away from his studies he was a computer games addict, and he spent last night at his console along with two friends, aged 16 and 18.
Arrangements were made for one of them to stay over at his house in the affluent Somerton district, off the Antrim Road, so all three went out to buy food.
“They all went down to the Esso Garage at Fortwilliam to get sweets and crisps and Coke,” Mrs Holloway said.
“These guys were obviously following them. They were jumped from behind and stabbed in the back.
“Thomas was stabbed five times. It’s come to something when a boy can’t even walk up the street to his own home.”
A doctor tried desperately to stem the bloodflow as the teenager lay dying, she added.
His 18-year-old friend was wounded, although not seriously, while the other boy managed to escape.
Two men with a dog were involved in the attack yards from Thomas’ home, according to a senior detective.
Superintendent Colin Sturgeon said: “These are the murderers of a 15-year-old boy.
“There were words spoken, but nothing to indicate a sectarian motive.
“It horrifies me because this attack was totally random in nature.”
As police scoured the area for clues, a young friend arrived and laid flowers at the scene of the killing.
Sinead Burns, 15, who went to the same school as Thomas, said: “It’s terrifying, you just get really, really scared.
“He was in our group of friends and everyone is really upset.
“Thomas was lovely, really friendly and just a nice guy.”
The killing, just days after a 15-year-old girl was subjected to a sadistic double rape in west Belfast, shocked public representatives, and confirmed a rising level of gratuitous attacks on the city’s streets.
Alban Maginness, an SDLP Assembly member for the area, claimed violence was now rife.
“This is an appalling act and my heart goes out to the mother, father and rest of the family,” he said.
“Leaving aside sectarian and paramilitary activity there has been an increase in violence.
“Coming so soon after the rape it paints an awful picture of the city.”
North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds told how people were stunned at what had happened.
“The death of anyone in such circumstances is deplorable but it is particularly shocking when the victim is so young,” the Democratic Unionist representative said.
“The whole community will be shocked and appalled at what has happened and our sympathies go out to the family circle at this time.”
The Alliance Party’s Marjorie Hawkins said: “This is a truly horrifying attack and I extend my deepest sympathy to the family of the victim.
“The local community is in a state of shock this morning.”