30 families benefit from Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust as 1st anniversary approaches

June 10, 2014

By Christine Keighery

As the first anniversary of the tragic death of Newry man Kevin Bell approaches on June 16th, The Examiner spoke to his father, Collie Bell about the lasting legacy of the repatriation trust created in Kevin’s name which continues to help families bring their loved ones’ bodies home from abroad.

Hugely popular Kevin had been living and working in New York for ten months before he was killed as he walked home alone after a night socialising with friends in the Woodlawn area of the Bronx. The death of the much loved Newry man prompted a huge outpouring of grief throughout the entire community of Newry and south Armagh and sparked an unprecedented fundraising effort to bring his remains home to his grief stricken family. The subsequent Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust (KBRT) set up in his honour raised thousands and his family pledged to continue with the fund to help other families visited by similar tragedy.

Over the last year the fund has helped some 30 Irish families repatriate the remains of their loved ones who have died abroad in sudden or tragic circumstances. With the families who have been assisted by the trust now heavily involved in fundraising, Kevin’s father expressed his hope that the fund will continue to help those in need of its services for a long time to come.

“This week we’re bringing home the thirtieth person this year to their family,” said Collie.

“It’s hard to believe that in less than a year we’ve been able to help so many people and that the fund is still going.  Now that people know about it and are fundraising even more for the trust, we’re happy that it’ll be able to continue. We seem to have filled a need that we wouldn’t have been aware of before Kevin died.”

Mr Bell added that as well as the much needed financial assistance the repatriation trust provides for bereaved families to bring their loved ones home, the group’s experience in dealing with foreign consuls and various organisations to arrange the repatriation of remains also removes a huge burden from grieving families.

“While the consuls in different countries do help to some degree, they don’t provide any financial assistance so it really was just up to the family to do that – they were completely on their own with that cost.  Now the trust can provide that and, because we’ve now dealt with so many repatriation cases, we can now get in very quickly and take the burden away from the family so that they don’t have to worry about anything with regards to organisations they need to contact or logistical arrangements.  We know what needs to be done and who needs to do it so it’s another worry lifted for them.”

“In the present climate of emigration a lot of young people are abroad and unfortunately tragedies happen, so the families who’ve experienced this and received our help want to do as much as they can.  They know that the money they raise is for the next family who receive the terrible phone call of the loss of a loved one abroad. It helps us all as bereaved families to be able to do this so we’re very glad that people are continuing  to raise funds for us.”

Mr Bell also credited the support of local people with kickstarting the repatriation trust, describing the fund as a “tribute to the generosity and goodness of the communities of Newry, south Armagh and south Down.”

“What the local community did for us in the days after Kevin died was truly amazing and the repatriation trust was created out of that generosity.  It’s also a great honour and a great way to remember Kevin. It’s an awful thing to to have go through – losing a son or a daughter but at least there is consolation in the fact that some good is coming out of his death, that it wasn’t a wasted life.”

To mark the first anniversary of Kevin’s death and the creation of the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust, a fundraising quiz night is being held on Tuesday 17th June in Newry’s Canal Court Hotel. Again the support for the quiz has been amazing, with a “staggering” amount of items donated for raffle and auction on the night. An Ireland Rugby jersey signed by Brian O’Driscoll and the entire 2014 Championship winning squad is just one of the much sought after items up for grabs along with tonnes of other fantastic prizes.

KBRT raffle tickets are currently on sale in Carlin Records on Hill Street, Newry, Signature Hair Studio on Hill Street and Quaypoint on Monaghan Street.

In dealing with the loss of Kevin, his family and the community have come together to create a lasting legacy in his memory, proving there is light at the end of a dark tunnel and everyone who has been touched by this or similar tragedy or who wants to show their support for the repatriation trust is invited to come the first anniversary quiz on 17th June.