Four schoolboys aged between 13 and 15 were being questioned on Friday night on suspicion of murder after a 12-year-old girl was stabbed to death following a petty row at a Christmas lights switching ceremony in Liverpool.
Ava White was at the event with a group of friends when she was attacked just after 8.30pm on Thursday.
Police said that a verbal argument had broken out between children and it had rapidly escalated into violence, with unconfirmed reports that Ava had been stabbed in the neck.
Christmas shoppers who witnessed the attack desperately tried to perform first aid on the Year Eight pupil while waiting for paramedics and police to arrive.
She was rushed to Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, but was declared dead a short time later.
Large crowds were in the city centre to see the Christmas lights and numerous people reported seeing four youths fleeing the scene on foot.
Merseyside Police confirmed that four boys, one aged 13, two aged 14 and the oldest aged just 15, were arrested at different locations in the Toxteth area of the city. No weapon has yet been recovered.
On Friday night, tributes were paid to Ava, who was a pupil at Notre Dame Catholic College in Liverpool, where she was described as a “much loved, valued and unique member” of the school’s family.
Peter Duffy, the college’s head teacher, said: “She was an incredibly popular girl with a fantastic group of friends. Our deepest thoughts and prayers go out to Ava’s family and friends and all those affected by this utterly tragic event.”
Rebecca Flynn, the head at Ava’s former school, Trinity RC Primary, added: “We are left with lasting memories of a bright and respectful little girl.”
Ava’s friends, who were with her at the time and who witnessed the attack, were receiving specialist care and counselling on Friday night.
The attack comes less than a fortnight after Liverpool was hit by a terrorist explosion outisde the Women’s Hospital, and the city is once again reeling from an incident of senseless violence.
Appeal for witnesses
Det Supt Sue Coombs, from Merseyside Police, said that the large amount of CCTV in the city centre was helping detectives piece together what had happened.
She said: “We know at the moment that Ava was with her friends in Liverpool city centre and there has been a verbal argument which has escalated to an assault on her involving a knife.”
However, Det Supt Coombs also appealed for anyone who had been in the area on Thursday evening and who might have any relevant phone footage to contact police.
She said: “There were an awful lot of people in town because of the switch-on of the lights, so we’re asking if people would just check their phones really. While taking photos they may have picked up something of significance that they don’t even know yet.”
Mary Katilius, 65, from Limerick, Ireland, said she had been in Liverpool city centre with her 18-year-old granddaughter when the attack happened.
She said: “We heard screams and someone said to call an ambulance. My granddaughter said she saw some young guys running off. We rushed over straight away but there was already a man helping her.”
Friends remember ‘loving, caring, bubbly character’
On Friday, devastated friends visited the scene to lay flowers and cards and pay tribute to Ava.
One 17-year-old, who did not wish to give her name, said her younger sister had been close friends with Ava.
She said: “She was just a bubbly character, so loving and caring. She came out with her friends to enjoy herself and I think it’s just wrong that this has happened.”
Asst Chief Constable Jon Roy said: “Our thoughts and condolences go out to Ava’s family, who are being supported by specialist Family Liaison officers. Their world has been torn apart and no parent should ever have to face that knock on the door from police officers to say that their child has died.
He went on: “Ava’s death should be a reminder to us all about the part that we each have to play in eliminating violence against women and girls.”
Mr Roy pointed out her death had come on White Ribbon Day, which is a global campaign to end violence against women and girls.
Asst Chief Constable Ngaire Waine added: “We will put everything we can to ensure we get justice for her but then I’m sure we will be looking at whether there were things we could have done, or our partners could have done, that might have made a difference, because we never want another 12-year-old, here or anywhere else, to be murdered when they are out and about having fun with their friends.”