by Marianne Flood

The mother of a young Derry man who lost his life in a Thai aeroplane accident has revealed she has raised £60,000 for charity in the 10 years since his death.

Aaron Toland was tragically killed on September 16, 2007 after the plane he was travelling in crashed on the island of Phuket.

The 22-year-old Brandywell man was just three days into the trip of a life time to Australia when disaster struck.

His mum, Anne Marie Toland, said she has never got over his death and still speaks to him every day.

“People say 10 years is a long time, but it feels just like yesterday to me,” she said.

“I can still remember the tears in his eyes when he was leaving.

“I could still tell you everything he said. The only way I can describe it is I’ve had to learn to live without him.

“I still have his picture on the mantle piece and I kiss it and wish him good morning and good night.

“I miss him every single day and I still talk away to him. He must put his fingers in his ears sometimes.”

After Aaron died Anne Marie threw herself into fundraising and raised £60,000 for local charities and people in need through football matches and car boot sales.

She said the fundraising has helped to keep Aaron’s memory alive and gave her a focus while she was trying to deal with her grief.

“I worked tirelessly to raise money because I wanted his memory to live on,” said Anne Marie.

“The people of Derry all came out in full force after Aaron died and this was my way of giving something back.

“People were so generous. And it was the poor people who gave you the most. I always found that.

“It all went to local Derry charities such as Foyle Down Syndrome Trust and Foyle Search and Rescue. There’s too many to name but I have lists of them all.

“I also would have organised for people to get oil deliveries and presents at Christmas.

“That would have been done anonymously. They wouldn’t have known where it came from and I will never know who they are.

“My very, very good friend would have helped me find people in need. It was all confidential.

“I would listen to people’s stories when we were doing the car boot and then I would decide who to give it to.”

Anne Marie has had to deal with the loss of many loved ones, including her mum and sisters Kathleen and Noreen who lost their lives to cancer.

Tragedy struck the family again two years ago when her brother Patrick passed away at a Christmas party .

The recent sudden death of her nephew, Derry City captain Ryan McBride, was particularly difficult to bear because like Aaron he died so unexpectedly.

“Ryan’s death just floored me,” she admitted.

“It brought everything back. It nearly wrecked me.”

Anne Marie’s youngest son Keenan, 27, is flying home from Australia later this month so the family can mark Aaron’s 10th anniversary together.

“Keenan just idolised Ryan,” she explained.

“They were the same age and so close.

“Ryan surprised Keenan out in Australia before he died. The video went everywhere. Keenan couldn’t believe it was Ryan standing in front of him.

“I’m so glad they got that time together.”

Aaron’s twin brother Emmett and two of his closest friends, Paul Houston and Paul Ferguson, are now taking on the ‘Tough Mudder’ obstacle course in London on the day of his 10th anniversary to raise money for the Ryan McBride Foundation.

The foundation aims to support, assist and inspire young footballers to achieve what Ryan achieved throughout his football career as captain of Derry City.

“I’m so proud of Emmett to think that he is doing this and where he is giving the money too,” said Anne Marie.

“This is Emmett’s way of dealing with things.

“He pushed himself into exercise and training after Aaron died.

“He had a son and he called him Aaron Junior and he is just beautiful, God bless him.

“I love all my boys and I’m so proud of them.”

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