England international Tyrone Mings visited the makeshift memorial to three boys who died after being pulled from an ice-covered lake at the weekend, saying “we feel this pain”.
Mings and fellow Aston Villa player and club captain John McGinn arrived to watch the floral tribute carpet next to Babbs Mill Lake, Solihull, near Birmingham, on Wednesday following the deaths of the boys aged eight, 10 and 11 years old.
A fourth boy, aged six, who was rescued from the water, remains in critical condition in hospital, police said.
Mings, who plays at centre-back for the Birmingham-based club and won 17 caps for England, said: “It was a personal decision to pay tribute to him.
“I think it had an impact on the whole city.
“We felt it was important to show up on a personal level just to show that support.
“Sometimes, as we’ve seen with other things that have happened across the city, there are more important things than football.
“We felt it was important to come here, to show our respect and to show that we are thinking of everything that has happened and the parents who are affected by it.
“We also feel this pain.”
Mings and McGinn spent a few moments in silence looking at the hundreds of tributes, cards, bouquets, children’s toys and balloons that have been left at the base of a tree next to Babbs Mill Park since the tragedy unfolded in nearby waters on Sunday.
Both players attended the club’s mid-season training camp in Dubai before returning to the UK ahead of Thursday night’s home friendly against Spanish side Villareal.
The tragedy has united the city’s rival football clubs, Aston Villa and Birmingham City – whose head coach John Eustace laid a wreath at the memorial on Tuesday on behalf of the Blues.
McGinn said: “We were in Dubai when we heard the news and I thought of my nieces and nephews, and the players thought of their children.
“It was certainly emotional for us.
“We saw John Eustace go down yesterday and myself and Tyrone thought it would be good for us to pay tribute to him.
“I’m sure tomorrow night in the friendly against Villareal, the Villa family will come together and pay their respects to what is a tragic event so close to home.”
McGinn said, “Nothing can sum up what the families will think, what the community will think.
“But it shows what a tight-knit community it is.”
Mings added: “It’s a really sad situation for everyone, we wanted to pay tribute to him.
“It touched everyone and made everyone really bond.
“We try to pay tribute as a football club, but it was a bit on a personal level.
“We were also thinking of everyone involved and it felt like a small gesture to come down and pay our respects.
“We felt it was important to do that.”
Later Wednesday, staff at John Henry Newman Catholic College and nearby Kingshurst Primary School spent a few minutes looking at the flowers and reading messages on cards, including heartfelt tributes to the ‘Babbs Mill Boys’ and the “Three Kings of Kingshurst”.
Earlier this week, relatives paid tribute to one of the youngsters, 10-year-old Jack Johnson, who allegedly tried to save others who fell into the water, and in a social media post thanked the community members for their support.
Several other tributes had cards dedicated to Jack while others honored another boy by name, saying, “To Thomas, the world won’t be the same without you” and “Thomas, rest in peace.” Earl’s love”.
Among the dozens of teddy bears was one with the message: “RIP beautiful angels”.
More details emerged of the rescuers, who included members of the public and police – including a rookie officer who suffered mild hypothermia after trying to break through the ice in order to get the boys out as quickly as possible.
Rich Cooke, chairman of the West Midlands Police Federation, told the Telegraph the officer was a student officer in his early 20s, who had been on one of his first operational rotations.
Mr Cooke described him as ‘an absolute hero’ who was currently on furlough but would be back later this week.
He said all officers who arrived at the scene had “tried to help in any way possible”.