Mum shares chilling premonition she had on day of her tragic son’s birth

Cradling her tiny newborn in hospital Debbie Turnbull beamed with joy as she looked down at her baby boy.

After a difficult labour Debbie was thrilled to finally have the ‘miracle’ baby she was told she would never have.

But that joy was soon overcome by a sense of impending doom and the chilling premonition her precious son Christopher would die young.

Debbie dreaded each birthday, fearing that every year was taking Chris closer to a premature death.

After he survived two near-drownings – one just months before his eventual death – Debbie felt that her sense of impending doom was just a mother’s irrational fear.

She was lulled into the tragically false belief that her son may be safe after all.

But when Chris ‘who could swim like a fish’ was just 15-years-old, he was sucked down 30ft into a cold whirlpool under a waterfall, near the family’s home in Wales, and drowned.

Debbie told "Chris was always an old soul and I knew we would not have him for long.

"On the day that he was born I told my best friend that I just knew he was going to die young. It was just a gut feeling I had.

"She did not say much to me at the time because she knows how I am, I’m just sensitive to these things, but when he died she reminded me of what I had said to her. And I did.

"I always felt that he would die when he was twelve and for years I dreaded his twelfth birthday but when he lived through it I started to relax," she continued.

"And Chris had so many near misses. He learned to swim after falling into a pool when we were on holiday in Tenerife when he was three-years-old.

"He was wearing arm bands but one of them had deflated. But he just started to kick and he stayed afloat. By the time we came home he could swim.

"The year he died we were on a cruise holiday," Debbie added. "When we stopped at a port Chris and his friend went off swimming.

"They swam into a network of caves and while they were in an inner chamber, the outer cave filled with the tide.

"It was like the children who got stuck in the cave in Thailand this year. He had to dive to get out of it but he did.

"He was so lucky to survive that time."

Just months later on August 14, 2006, Chris slipped off a ledge and into the river Llugwy.

He was dragged into a whirlpool caused by icy water which had rushed down the mountain after heavy rain days earlier.

When Chris disappeared his friend jumped in to try to save him but the current was too strong.

His foot had become trapped under a tree root, submerging his body.

An autopsy later revealed he had died from cold water shock and he suffered a minor heart attack.

Debbie, now 59, remembers that last morning with Chris when she dropped him to the train on a hot summer morning for what would be his last journey to the river.

After he jumped out of the car he turned and said, ‘I love you mum,’ before running off to meet his friends.

She did not yet know that they would be the last words he ever said to her.

"My husband John got home at 4.10pm and asked me where Chris was. I told him he went to Capel Curig and he said ‘he’s dead’.

"He said he’d heard on the car radio that someone was missing in the Llugwy river.

"And I just had this gut feeling and I knew it was him.

"I picked up the phone to call the police but as I dialled, the doorbell rang. It was a policewoman and family liaison officer.

"They told us a boy was missing and it could be Chris. And I knew in my heart that he had gone.

"The next six hours were hell. People were searching for him but I knew in my heart he had gone. It was a very tough six hours.

"Chris went into the water at 12.20pm and his body was found at 7.03pm.

"Then police made us wait until after 10pm to see Chris but I’m glad I saw him then.

"He looked very peaceful. He did not look dead but just like he was sleeping although his lips were blue. He looked really calm and beautiful.

"Chris had always been a water baby and drowning was the last thing I thought would happen to him.

"He was very spiritual and you could just talk to him for hours. He was interested in what made people tick.

"I think he would have gone into the caring professions if he had survived, probably working with children."

Debbie decided to carry on her son’s caring spirit by setting up the charity River And Sea Sense (RASS) to channel her horrific grief into something positive.

Almost 300,000 children have already heard her innovative presentations about water safety at schools around the country and that number is rising all the time.

She helps children visualise potential underwater hazards – like submerged vegetation, rubbish and machinery that could snag their limbs or clothing, and she teaches them about various open water conditions.

Countless letters have arrived at her office from children thanking her for teaching them – and potentially saving their lives.

Debbie also organises events to promote water safety and helps supports a network of families trying to survive the tragedy after a loved one drowns.

She is also working to compile a national map showing the danger spots where people have drowned or had accidents in the water before.

And her hard work has not gone unnoticed.

The RASS won the National Lottery Special Achievement Award for 2017, and Debbie spoke at parliament last month about water safety following this national recognition.

Bear Grylls, with whom she has had "long chats", commended her work at the recent awards.

"Bear was very pleased with our work. We don’t go into schools with fear, we’re not part of the doom and gloom sector. The outdoors is wonderful," Debbie said.

"We want children to enjoy it equipped with the life skills to survive and understand their environment.

"Bear was really sad to hear about what happened to Chris.

"But I say Chris died happy. Chris loved the outdoors, he would have lived in a tent if he could have.

"It’s easy to become bitter but I can’t let myself. It’s not what Chris would have wanted. It doesn’t do anything positive.

"His loss hurts like hell but I try to focus on using my story to send a strong message to young people about the importance of water safety."

The RASS is partially funded by the National Lottery and Debbie is now looking for sponsorship and a celebrity ambassador to help her continue to grow the charity and save young lives.

"It’s been a nightmare financially. We rely on grant funding and I’ve never wanted to charge for my services in case a school couldn’t afford it and then something happened to one of those children.

"In almost 10 years I’ve only been paid very occasionally for my work. My husband had a good job during much of that time which helped a lot but it has been difficult."

She told that one of her most recent concerns has been people taking inflatable toys, popular on Instagram feeds, like blow-up unicorns and flamingos, onto open water without a lifejacket.

"I have been really upset to see inflatables used on open water. It’s a recipe for disaster. They can be blown out to sea in seconds.

"And many of them have a cup holder where people can store glasses full of alcohol.

"Drinking alcohol and bringing glass out on an inflatable in open water is just so dangerous.

"Someone can suddenly find themselves way out of their depth in very cold, deep water. And you can drown so quickly. In less than three minutes Chris was dead."

Chris was Debbie’s miracle baby.

She had suffered severe gynaecological problems and doctors told her she was extremely lucky to conceive.

They also warned her that having another child could kill her.

She said that her ‘perfect boy’ made her life complete and the pain of losing him has been unimaginable.

But she believes Chris is still with her and she keeps his memory alive through her thoughts, her tireless work and her daily conversations with him.

Debbie said: "I speak to Chris everyday. I feel it helps me. And every time I’m a bit low or unsure of myself I tell him and a rainbow seems to appear.

"It’s always happened since he passed away."

Pictures of Chris adorn the walls of her house and his school projects are propped proudly on table tops.

She has moved house twice since his death but has kept memory boxes stuffed with his photos, clothes and toys which she takes out when she wants to feel close to him.

"Chris was unique. He was very lively and all the girls loved him.

"He had lots of platonic girlfriends who he would go the cinema with and watch the films they wanted.

"He loved rugby and was training to get his rugby cap. He was a very strong young man.

"He loved swimming and was such a water baby. He would practice holding his breathe under the water as a child and from the age of five he could hold it for 16 seconds. I used to count it for him. "

Debbie said that she no longer visits Capel Curig as often as she used to. It’s painful to visit and she now lives further away from the beauty spot where her son died.

"I went up two weeks ago for the first time in three years. It was really hard and quite upsetting," Debbie said, her voice breaking as she struggles to hold back tears.

"But it’s beautiful there. I have to keep saying ‘he was happy here’.

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