Dad of girl who died in River Wear double tragedy makes poignant plea for safety

One year on, after her death, Michael Purvis pays tribute to his daughter Tonibeth, with his son and daughter, Michael and Georgia.
One year on, after her death, Michael Purvis pays tribute to his daughter Tonibeth, with his son and daughter, Michael and Georgia.
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A GRIEVING father today told of his daily struggle to come to terms with his daughter’s death – a year to the day after she died trying to save her drowning friend.

Tonibeth Purvis, 15, and Chloe Fowler, 14, died when they jumped into the fast-moving water near Fatfield, Washington, on July 23 last year.

Chloe, of Shiney Row, who attended Oxclose Community Academy, entered the water to cool off.

When she got into difficulty, Tonibeth, of Barmston, got in to help her best friend.

After the girls were dragged under the water, 100 emergency service personnel conducted a search for them.

Both of their bodies were later pulled from the river.

Michael Purvis, 42, is hoping to visit the spot where Tonibeth entered the water today, for the very first time.

He is still trying to move on from the loss of his daughter, a pupil at Washington School, who was hailed a “hero” after the tragedy.

“It has been a hard couple of weeks, especially with my nephew leaving school – Tonibeth should have been leaving school too,” he said.

“She would have looked forward to her prom.

“I have my good days and my bad days. It’s in my head every day.”

Michael, also dad to Michael, 13, and Georgia, 12, said Tonibeth’s friends paid tribute to the “funny,” “popular” girl at their school prom by displaying a photo of her.

He is now set to pay the ultimate tribute by visiting the site of her death, something which he has never been able to face doing up until now.

“If I go, I’m not looking forward to it,” he said. “My sister wants to let balloons and things off, and she has bought a few roses for the kids to scatter.

“Her friends are going down to the river too.”

Michael, a driver for Washington Taxis, described the day his beloved daughter died as “the longest day of his life.”

He is now hoping that her tragic death stands as a warning to others about the dangers of entering the water.

“It’s nice weather., and you want nice weather for the kids to play out,” he said.

“But now, obviously, I don’t want them down there, and I want them in the house.

“Hopefully her friends will stick to what they said after it happened and not go down there.”

He added that he is concentrating on looking after Michael and Georgia.

“I have to think about them,” he said. “They are what keeps me going.

“They haven’t said much. Our Michael understands more than Georgia, I think she is still a bit too young.

“After Wednesday I don’t really want to be here, so we are going away for a few days. It will be good to get away.”