Police in Coleraine have appealed to the public to help them catch a local youth who pushed a seven-year-old child into a blazing bonfire last week.
Millburn youngster, Tyler Hutchinson, was playing with a friend in a field near his Ballysally home, last Wednesday afternoon, when the assault took place.
Tyler was standing next to a small fire, adjacent to the much larger unlit Twelfth bonfire, when a youth approached the lad, put both hands on his chest and, without warning, shoved him backwards into the flames.
Trying to save himself as he fell, Tyler put his hands down into the fire, badly burning his back, head and neck. Plastic that was being burned in the blaze also melted into his skin.
All the other youths at the field, who had been assembling the main bonfire, fled when they saw what had happened.
The youngster’s friend, also seven, phoned Tyler’s parents and his dad, Trevor Hutchinson, ran to the scene where he found his son “bent over and squealing in pain”.
Speaking after Tyler was released from hospital, Trevor, from Linden Avenue, said: “All the wee ones go up to that field to play football or cycle their bikes. Tyler and his wee friend had walked over to a smaller fire that the kids light when they’re working on the main bonfire, where he said he saw a couple of teenage boys standing.
“Then one of them walked round it and pushed Tyler backwards into the fire. He put his two hands back behind him as he fell and he burned the back of his head. His t-shirt and plastic from what I think was a wheelie bin was burned into his neck and his hair was all singed from ear to ear.”
Mr Hutchinson said that when his son’s friend made the phone call, all he could hear was his son’s screams and the words “fire, fire”. He immediately ran to the field where he found Tyler and his friend.
“He was in a terrible state,” Mr Hutchinson said. “He was terrified and bent over and squealing in pain. His head has been singed from ear to ear. It’s bad, but if his clothes had caught fire things could have been a lot worse. He could have burned to death.”
Doctors at Coleraine’s Causeway Hospital gave Tyler medication to make him sleepy, but when they tried to remove the plastic stuck to his skin, they were pulling off layers.
Mr Hutchinson explained: “They didn’t want to do that otherwise he could be scarred for life so they have removed basically nothing since this happened on Wednesday. They are just baffled. They don’t know what to do.”
Tyler was released from hospital on Wednesday night and is due to go back today (Tuesday) for a follow-up assessment.
Meanwhile, Mr Hutchinson was able to give police a detailed description of the teenager who he said pushed his son into the flames. He told police that Tyler was face to face with his attacker, thought to be about 13 or 14-years-old, and “if he saw the lad again, he would know him.”
He said this incident should serve as a warning to parents and youths alike about the dangers of hanging around bonfires and smaller fires unsupervised.
“Everyone in the community is angry about this. No one can believe that a teenage boy who should know better would do something like this. It’s shocking.”
Alliance councillor and social worker Yvonne Boyle, said: “This was a shocking and deplorable attack on a young boy. I am very concerned about the actions and intentions of the youths who carried out this attack.
“I hope that this boy is able to get over what must have been a traumatic incident and will be able to make a recovery from his injuries.”
Police have appealed for information about the incident as well as help from the public to identify Tyler’s attacker. Anyone who can help with the PSNI enquiry is asked to contact them on 0845 600 8000 or Crimestoppers 0800 555 111.