TEENAGER Tonibeth Purvis has been hailed a hero after it was revealed she died trying to save her drowning friend.
Police said 15-year-old Tonibeth jumped into the River Wear to save Chloe Fowler, 14, who had gone in to cool off.
But the pair got into difficulties in the fast-flowing river and despite a huge rescue attempt involving more than 100 emergency service personnel, their bodies were recovered by police dive units on Tuesday night.
Bethany Rose-McCaffrey, 15, of Houghton, who went to Barmston Primary School with Tonibeth, was among pals who paid an emotional tribute to the teens at the tragic scene yesterday.
She said it didn’t surprise her that Tonibeth tried to save her friend.
“She was loving, caring, and always put everyone before herself,” she said.
“She would have done anything for anyone, and it’s nice to know that you have a friend who would do that.
“She has died a hero trying to save a friend’s life, which shows we really do have friends out there.”
Bethany added: “When someone told me what had happened, I was just hoping she was going to be fine and safe .
“I did not believe it was actually her but then I found out that it was. I’m really shocked because I did not think something like this would happen.”
In a statement, Chloe’s family said: “Chloe was a beautiful, kind and caring girl and we as a family are devastated by what has happened.
“We would like to thank everyone involved in helping us to look for the girls.”
Superintendent Alan Veitch, of Sunderland Area Command, said: “Chloe went in first, Tonibeth and others went in to help her. Tonibeth got into difficulties and so did the others.”
Mr Veitch added that Chloe got into the water of her own free will. “The emerging picture is that she went in to keep cool,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of children who were trying to effect a rescue.
“It’s difficult for the children who were involved in the actual incident itself as one or two of them nearly drowned.”
Friends of the two girls have been laying flowers near where they died and paying their respects.
Aimee Bell, 13, said: “I knew Chloe, she was a fantastic girl and she did not deserve this at all. I’ve come to pay my respects because she was such a lovely girl.”
Tearful Adelle Warin, 17, of Oxclose, said she is devastated by the loss of her friends. “I still don’t really believe it,” she said. “Toni was such a loving and kind girls, and Chloe had a heart of gold, she would help anyone out.
“It’s horrible what their families must be going through.” Georgia Bell, 14, said: “We were with them on Monday. They were such down-to-earth, lovely girls. Toni had such a cheeky grin and she was always smiling.
“All our friends have been saying they are there for each other to get through it.”
Stella Bell, 15, of Fatfield, said school won’t be the same without Chloe in September: “Chloe was lovely and we were close, she always made everyone happy. It’s just terrible.”
A card left with flowers from Beth McCabe, said to be Chloe’s best friend, read: “My best friend, my soul mate, you were like a sister from another mother man!
“Never gonna replace you. Best friend forever and always in my thoughts.”
Another said: “RIP Tonibeth you are a hero. We all have so much respect for you.”
A card left with flowers for Chloe said: “Heaven has gained a beautiful angel who will be greatly missed.”
Written on another, was: “RIP Toni you died a hero. Chloe you are one amazing girl. Keep on fighting and watch over us, love you lots.”
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