The head of the Leeds school where a much-loved teacher was stabbed to death in front of her pupils has described his immense pride at leading the students and staff as they tried to cope with the tragedy.
Steve Mort singled out the children at Corpus Christi Catholic College in Leeds for praise as he inspected the mass of floral tributes which have accumulated since the death of Spanish teacher Ann Maguire on Monday morning.
Mr Mort was speaking as police continued to question a 15-year-old boy over Mrs Maguire’s stabbing.
He said: “I am immensely proud to be headteacher at Corpus Christi.
“Our children have proven themselves to be great ambassadors for the school. And I want to pay particular tribute to them and to the professionalism and dedication demonstrated by our staff at this very difficult time.”
The head spent around 15 minutes reading some of the hundreds of messages along the 164ft (50m) line of tributes placed against the school’s metal railings along with his deputy, Cath Bielby, and assistant heads, Kieran Sykes and Andy Kellett.
Mr Mort said: “I want to say on behalf of the pupils, the staff and the governors and of the school that we are overwhelmed by the amazing outpouring of love and affection for Ann from the local community, from friends of the school past and present and from colleagues across the city.
“Over the past 48 hours we have drawn an incredible amount of strength and comfort from all the amazing tributes and messages of sympathy and support that we have received from right across the country and, indeed, the world.
“I would personally like to express my gratitude to all of the people that are currently supporting us within the school - West Yorkshire Police, Leeds City Council, the diocesan family and, in particular, our partner primary schools and Catholic Care.”
Last night magistrates gave West Yorkshire Police extra time to question the schoolboy who was detained by staff following the stabbing and remains in custody.
Mrs Maguire, 61, was months away from retiring, after working at Corpus Christi Catholic College for more than 40 years, when she was attacked in a classroom in front of around 30 pupils.
Scores of the children leaving the school this afternoon stopped to read hundreds of messages pinned to a mass of floral tributes outside the gates.
It has emerged that Mrs Maguire, who was described as a “wonderful, dedicated teacher” by the school’s chairman of governors, raised her two nephews following the death of her sister, who was a single mother.
Mrs Maguire, who is understood to have two grown-up daughters of her own, brought up Andrew and Daniel from a young age after their mother, Eileen Poole, died from cancer.
Her former brother-in-law, Mike Thomas, told the Sun newspaper: “Ann took on the two sons and brought them to live with her. She brought them up ‘til they were about 18.
“She had two daughters so her family doubled overnight. It must have been hard work for her with four kids, but she didn’t bat an eyelid.”
Mrs Maguire’s death is thought to be the first time a teacher has been stabbed to death in a British classroom, and the first killing of a teacher in a school since the 1996 Dunblane massacre.
She went to Corpus Christi as a student teacher and, last year, the school held a celebration of her 40 years’ service.
This year, she moved to working four days a week ahead of her planned retirement in five months’ time.
Children at the school have spoken of how the teenager who attacked Mrs Maguire walked from the back of the class and produced a knife before stabbing her multiple times.
They said another female Spanish teacher went to her aid.
Police have confirmed that Mrs Maguire died from multiple stab wounds.
Mrs Maguire, who was head of Year 11 at the school for more than 10 years, lived in the Moortown area of Leeds with her husband, Donald, who is believed to be a retired maths teacher.
Teaching assistant Julie Digings, who retired from her job at Corpus Christi in January after 17 years, was in tears as she recalled how Mrs Maguire had recently written a message on her retirement card.
“She sent me a lovely retirement card,” Ms Digings said as she laid a bunch of flowers before attending morning Mass at the church attached to the school.
“I got my retirement cards from everybody just a couple of weeks ago and she wrote in my card ‘To Julie, you gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous young lady. We will always miss you. Love Ann’.”
Mrs Digings said: “They are saying she was the mother of the school and that’s what she was like. She was like a mum to them.
“You know when they say they give the extra mile? Well, Ann did that - above and beyond what is expected of anybody. It was just her nature to resolve something. Whatever it was she would go and make sure things were resolved.
“She was wonderful, absolutely wonderful. Don’t get me wrong, she was strict. Firm but fair was Ann but the kids respected her for that.”