The heartbroken mum of a Peterhead teenager who died by suicide has courageously spoken about her “sunshine boy”, his final moments and her hope his story may help others.
Preston Casey-Turnbull was 14 years old when he died by suicide in May this year.
The only child of Tiffany Casey, the Peterhead Academy pupil’s sudden death “brought the world crashing down” around her.
“That boy was my everything. From the second he was born, I knew him. He and I were one and the same. I’ve lost a piece of me.”
Bundle of joy
Preston was born on January 31, 2009 to Tiffany and dad Nicky Turnbull. Born in Aberdeen Maternity Hospital following a difficult 24-hour labour he weighed a healthy 7lb 7.5 ounces.
Speaking to me from her home in Mintlaw, and supported by her mum and sister, Tiffany points to a cast of her pregnant belly, now draped in a yellow Preston Casey-Turnbull memorial cloth.
“I kept that safe all these years,” she says. “I’m hoping to do something special with it.”
Sunshine wherever he went
During early childhood, Tiffany and Preston settled in Crimond. “A great place to bring him up” they were both happy and settled. He attended Crimond play group and later Crimond Primary School.
Clutching photo albums and surrounded by pictures of her son, she said: “He was the happiest wee boy. He loved school and he walked about like he owned Crimond, talking to everyone, making friends with the whole village.
“He was obsessed with Adventure Time since he was tiny. We took him to Codona’s one day and my best friend Talia won a Finn – a character from the show. He was so happy that day.
“Just sunshine wherever he went.”
Sadly, tragedy struck when Tiffany’s mental health began to deteriorate in 2016.
When he was almost eight years old his mum was admitted to hospital for an extended period following a “serious episode”.
“It must have been awful for him,” said Tiff. “Something like that will certainly have traumatised Preston. I have to try and listen when people remind me that nobody chooses poor mental health.”
Since that time she has clung to memories of the last birthday party she threw for Preston.
“He wisnae feart of anything. We had snakes there and an iguana… he loved it.”
Big changes for Preston
“Knowing in her heart” they would be together again, Preston went to stay with his dad and step-mum.
“Preston adored his dad. But being away from my boy was devastating for me and my family,” she said.
One of five, Tiffany is an aunt to Preston’s 20 cousins, who also had limited contact with him during that time.
Tiffany’s mum Janet, and sister Amber, sob as we discuss this.
Back together again
However, from spring 2022 Preston’s relationship with his mum and wider family was restored.
“Everything changed from Mother’s Day 2022. We had supper dates and then sleepovers. We’d message on TikTok, and it just felt right again.
“After we had been spending time together regularly, we dropped him off one day and he said, ‘bye mum, love you,’ like it was nothing. Just a natural thing for him to say. It meant the world to me though. It had been such a long time since I had heard that.”
‘I was worried…’
Still the same kind boy who liked to look after animals and “make a hot chocolatey mess” in the kitchen, Tiff was asked if there had been warning signs about Preston’s mental health.
“I’ve always believed he would need ongoing support since my breakdown,” she said. “And I’m sure he had ADHD, which can impact mood and impulsivity.
“We’ve also lost family members to suicide.
“I was worried. He was thinner and paler. Some of that sunshine had faded.”
Happy memories together
From April 27 until May 1 Preston stayed over with his mum.
“It was a lovely weekend. My friend’s son Logan came over, Preston’s cousin McKinley was there. It was beautiful to hear them all making a noise and just being kids.
“I wasn’t very well but it didn’t matter. Every now and then Preston came in and lay beside me.
“Our last hour together was him eating a roast chicken dinner I made him. It felt good to nourish him. But that was the last moments we had together other than the hug goodbye.”
Just two days later on May 3 Tiffany received a phone call that would change her life forever.
“I was still ill and I saw I had a missed call from Preston’s step-mum. I didn’t know if I had the energy to answer if I’m honest. She rang again and I had a sense that I should answer.
“She said ‘Tiffany. Preston’s just taken his own life’.
“I was like, ‘what?’ ‘WHAT?!” I crumbled to the ground and then just had to pick myself up to rush to get there.
“His dad did CPR and when he was taken from the house into the ambulance I kissed him on the forehead. He wasn’t cold but I can still almost taste the smell of vomit on him.
“He was taken to hospital but ultimately that wasn’t him there any more. He had gone.”
Kept on life support while organ donation was discussed, Tiff only had a small amount of time with her son before she had to say a final goodbye.
“It was all just so quick. I feel cheated out of my time with him. That sounds bad, I know, because I signed him up for organ donation, but I really thought I would get one night with him. Just to lie there and hug him.
“I didn’t get that.”
In the days following Preston’s death, he had a formal funeral arranged by his dad, and on Saturday, October 21 Tiffany organised a joyful memorial celebration.
Filled with yellow balloons, photos, sunflowers and specially designed artwork depicting Preston and his mum as part of Adventure Time, the team from Shirley’s Space both spoke and supported the family during the memorial.
Preston’s aunt Amber paid tribute to her nephew. She wrote: “Because of you, and your aura, I got the honour of watching how your mama doted on you. You and she, helped me, and guided me, as a young 16-year-old on my journey to being a mam.”
She added that she was grateful that he “never stopped bringing the family together”.
‘This can’t be for nothing’
Since Preston’s death, Tiffany has committed to sharing her grief journey and the details of Preston’s story.
“This can’t be for nothing. I can’t lose my boy and it all be for nothing,” she said. “If I share Preston’s story – with brutal honesty, it might make some other teenager stop and think about what suicide does to a family. It may help another mum cope with loss.
“And if it helps one person then it wasn’t for nothing.”
She’s already seeing the fruit of that decision.
Contacted by another 14-year-old from America via her TikTok he said seeing her posts had stopped him acting on his own suicidal impulses.
“That’s the reality. Suicide rips your heart wide open. It rips families wide open. I’ll never forget that image of my boy, is him in bed, without his soul. And there was nothing anyone could do to bring him back.
“I know it will shock people. But if you’re struggling with mental health issues sometimes you need a shock of what reality would look like. I’m devastated and maybe always will be.”
‘Stay with us, better days are coming’
As she shows me Preston’s ashes in an urn embellished with a turtle, I ask her what her happiest memory is of her boy.
“We had a weekend in Edinburgh in 2015 for my birthday. It was his first time on a train and he was so excited. Before we visited the zoo we went to buy snacks. He asked me for some of his pocket money.
“Five minutes later he comes back with a big bunch of flowers saying ‘happy birthday mam’. My heart nearly exploded.
“It aches to think I’ll never have that day again.”
Asked what advice she would give to any young person in a similar situation to Preston, Tiffany offers a message of hope.
“I’ve been there, and I know you won’t believe this but nothing stays like this forever. You won’t always feel like this. Good things are waiting.
“It may take a wee while, but you can feel better. If you just stick around long enough you’ll find joy again. Better days are coming.”
- For a non-judgmental, confidential conversation, call the Samaritans free on 116 123, or if you are under 19 call Childline on 0800 1111
- Tiffany spoke exclusively to the Press and Journal. She hasn’t given any other publication permission to use her words or photographs.