GRIEVING family and friends have held a special event in memory of a Basingstoke schoolgirl who died just days before her 16th birthday.
Hundreds of people gathered in Basingstoke's War Memorial Park on Monday evening to remember Whitney Berridge on what would have been her milestone birthday.
Scores of pink balloons were released in memory of the Everest Community Academy pupil, who died in Basingstoke hospital after falling ill at her aunt's home in Paddock Road, South Ham, on April 19.
Whitney's life had been touched by tragedy as her mother Shanie was found hanged at her then family home in Popley, Basingstoke, in May 2012.
While Whitney has been described her as “a strong girl” who was “bubbly, fun and caring”, Leigh-Ann O'Leary - the aunt she lived with - said the death of Whitney's mum clearly took its toll on the teenager.
She said: “Whitney and her mum were very close. When Shanie died, Whitney died with her.”
Whitney loved the colour pink – so it was fitting that when family and friends gathered to remember her on what would have been her 16th birthday, they released pink balloons into the sky.
Hundreds of people were united in grief as they turned out at Basingstoke’s War Memorial Park on Monday evening – all trying to come to terms with the sudden death of the schoolgirl.
Whitney, who had been living with her aunt Leigh-Ann O’Leary, died in Basingstoke hospital after suddenly falling ill at home in Paddock Road, South Ham, Basingstoke, just before 3pm on April 19.
The Everest Community Academy pupil, who was preparing to sit her GCSE exams, was treated by paramedics and rushed to hospital, but her grandmother Mary Gibbons had to take the heartbreaking decision to turn off Whitney’s life-support machine at about 8.30pm.
Whitney’s death – which is not being treated as suspicious by the police – came nearly two years after her mother Shanie was found hanged on May 6, 2012, at her Popley home.
Leigh-Ann, 27, said: “Whitney and her mum were very close. It was the relationship you always want with your mum. When Shanie died, Whitney died with her.”
Leigh-Ann, who had been trying to seek counselling for Whitney, added: “Something absolutely changed her when her mum died.”
Speaking about the day Whitney died, Leigh-Ann said: “She was laughing and talking and then someone texted her and her whole mood changed.
“I went upstairs to speak to her and she said nothing was the matter. I came downstairs and later went upstairs, and she was face down on the floor. I called her three times. I tapped her arm and she didn’t answer.”
Whitney suffered from Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, a heart condition that can cause the heart to beat abnormally fast.
Her family are now awaiting the results of toxicology tests which they hope will reveal exactly what happened.
The North East Hampshire Coroner’s Office will open an inquest into Whitney’s death once the test results are back.
Leigh-Ann, who had bought an X-Box to give Whitney for her 16th birthday on Monday, said her niece was planning to have hair extensions for the big day.
Leigh-Ann said Whitney, who has three sisters and a brother, was a clever girl, and had predicted GCSE grades of Bs and Cs.
Many people paid tribute to Whitney at the War Memorial Park event.
Her 16-year-old cousin, Sophie Berridge, from Popley, said: “She was bubbly and fun and caring. We spent a lot of time together. I was always with her.”
Mourners laid flowers in War Memorial Park and set off lanterns in memory of Whitney, comforting each other as the pink balloons, with personal tributes attached to them, drifted away.
Lilly Wrightson, of Goddards Close, Basingstoke, said: “She was loved by everyone and she was a big fan of Barbie. She knew a lot of people.”
The 16-year-old, who went to school with Whitney, added: “I was distraught when I heard about what had happened – it is horrible. We were all so close.
“Today is about remembering her and celebrating her birthday.”
Another friend Georgina Ryman, 16, said: “She was really popular. She was hilarious.”
Icey Charlton, 14, a family friend from South Ham, said: “She was loud and vibrant and really honest.”
Her mother Nikke Charlton added: “She was beautiful inside and out. She always guided the little ones and said ‘don’t go off with the boys, and don’t smoke’ She was a really clever girl.”
The 34-year-old said she had known Whitney all her life, adding: “I grew up with her mum. Whitney was such a strong girl and strong character.”
A statement from Everest Community Academy, where Whitney was on dual roll with the Ashwood Centre for a short period to give her targeted support in preparation for her GCSEs, described Whitney as “an extremely popular student with both staff and students”.
It added: “She loved to sing and her bright, bubbly personality will be sorely missed.”
Whitney’s close friends came up with the idea of planting a cherry blossom tree in her memory, and students from both schools wrote messages on pink labels to put in a book celebrating her short life, which will be given to her family.
Whitney’s funeral is due to take place on May 9, at 1.30pm, at St Joseph’s Church, South Ham, followed by a burial at Worting Road Cemetery.