Dunblane massacre 21 years on: Daughter of teacher Gwen Mayor who died protecting her class speaks out


by Miranda Knox |

The daughter of Gwen Mayor, the teacher who was murdered along with 16 children in the Dunblane Primary school massacre, opened up about her mum's death

Debbie Mayor was 19 when her mum and 16 pupils were killed in Britain's deadliest school shooting.

It's been 21 years since 16 children and their teacher Gwen Mayor were murdered at Dunblane Primary School in the worst shooting in UK history.

Most of the victims were aged just five, and a further 12 children were injured.

Gwen (top left) with her class at Dunblane Primary School (Credit: Getty Images) ©Getty Images

After the three-minute massacre, twisted killer Thomas Hamilton turned the gun on himself.

The tragedy triggered an outpouring of grief, and as a result of the shootings, two new firearms Acts were passed, which effectively made private ownership of handguns illegal.

Support worker Debbie Mayor was 19 when her mum Gwen, 45, was killed trying to protect her class.

READ MORE: Britain remembers Dunblane after tragic shooting

Debbie Mayor was 19 when her mum Gwen was killed (Credit: Debbie Mayor) ©Debbie Mayor

Single Debbie, who lives in Stirling with her two kids, Robbie, eight, and Milly, seven, says: "The pain never fully goes. Mum died trying to protect her pupils, and I'm so proud, but words can't describe the devastation we felt. She was so bubbly and outgoing- I'm devastated my kids will never meet her.

"It was only when I became a mum that I truly understood what the Dunblane parents must have felt. It made me scared to let my own kids go to school. I just pray something like this never happens again."

Gwen Mayor, the teacher killed by gunman Thomas Hamilton
©Debbie Mayor

Growing up in Stirling with mum Gwen, dad Rodney, now 72, and sister Esther, now 40, Debbie had a happy childhood. She says: "We were a close family. Mum was always there for me and I looked up to her. She loved her job."

In 1994 Debbie left home to attend the University of North London. She says: "My parents drove me down, and Mum was in bits saying goodbye. We spoke on the phone regularly, and she wrote letters, which I still have. Whenever she came down to visit, we'd go shopping."

Debbie appeared in a BBC documentary (Credit: BBC) ©BBC

In December 1995, Debbie saw her mum for the last time. She says: "We spent the Christmas holidays together. It was special. I thought I had all the time in the world with her."

On the morning of 13 March 1996, Debbie was getting ready for university while, 400 miles away in the peaceful village of Dunblane, horrific events were starting to unfurl.

Children and adults outside Dunblane Primary School after the shooting (Credit: Getty Images) ©Getty Images

Just after 9:30am, loner Hamilton gained entry to the school carrying four legally held hand guns and 743 cartridges of ammunition.

He then entered the gym, where a class of 29 Year One pupils were preparing for a PE lesson and in a cold-blooded three-minute attack killed Gwen and 16 children, before shooting himself.

An ambulance outside the horrific scene (Credit: Getty Images) ©Getty Images

Only one child escaped unharmed.

Headteacher Ron Taylor was the first on the scene and raised the alarm. Parents desperate for information raced to the school.

A child being comforted after the shooting (Credit: Getty Images) ©Getty Images

Debbie says: "I heard on the radio that there had been an incident, but couldn't get hold of anyone at home. I tried calling a special police line for details, but it was too busy. As more emerged I knew Mum could be involved but I tried not to think the worst."

Finally, at 3pm Debbie received the call she'd been dreading. She says: "Dad called and said mum had been shot six times and had died at the scene.

Dunblane Primary 13th March 1996
©Getty Images

"It didn't seem real at first. I got the next flight home, and it was then I burst into tears."

Debbie adds: "Dad tried to hold it together for us, but I knew he was struggling. The first night we all slept in the living room as we didn't want to be alone. The support from the whole country got us through.

"A post room was set up for the amount of letters and gifts, like teddy bears, that we and the other victims received. After speaking to Mum's friends, I realised how proud she was of my sister and me – it broke my heart."

Three girls support each other after the incident (Credit: Getty Images) ©Getty Images

A week later Debbie said goodbye to her mum at a service in Dunblane Cathedral.

Debbie says: "We played Whitney Houston's I Will Always Love You, and family and friends gave speeches. I felt numb and couldn't cry. Shortly after we were assigned a social worker and all received counselling."

A woman takes care of a crying boy (Credit: Getty Images) ©Getty Images

While the motive for the attack was unclear, a public inquiry found former scout leader Hamilton had been investigated by police following complaints about his behaviour around young boys.

Debbie, who asked Closer not to use Hamilton's picture, says: "I felt angry, but I refused to waste my thoughts on him and get upset if I see his photo."

Teenagers comfort each other (Credit: Getty Images) ©Getty Images

Six months later, Debbie returned to university. She says: "I just wanted the world to stop, but I knew I had to carry on. It was so hard to get back to normal, and I suffered depression. Birthdays and anniversaries are tough."

In 2007, Debbie had son Robbie followed by daughter Millie a year later.

Flowers outside Dunblane Primary in 1996
©Getty Images

Debbie, who has since split from their dad, who she was with for 13 years, says: "Becoming a mum was bittersweet. I was overjoyed but so sad that Mum wasn't there to meet them, or give me advice. It felt so unfair.

"I'm not an anxious person but after what happened, it was so hard to send them to school. Thankfully the teachers were understanding and there are more security measures in place."

The "Gwen Mayor" rose that was unveiled in August 1997 (Credit: Debbie Mayor) ©Debbie Mayor

Debbie tries to concentrate on remembering the happy times with her mum.

She says: "I wonder how things might have been if Mum was still here. I'm so lucky to have my kids, and they're my focus. She has a trust in her name, raising money for local primary schools, and we had a peach-coloured rose named after her. My children know what happened and refer to Mum as their 'special granny'.

"Every year I go back to the school and out a single rose down – I'm determined she'll never be forgotten."

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