It was young love, lost far sooner than either teenager could ever have imagined.
Just yesterday, Michael Ryall and Cassie Dennis were a couple of smitten high school students, who revelled in each other’s company and who were looking forward to a future together.
But now, Cassie, 15, is struggling to come to terms with the crushing news that she will never see her boyfriend again, after an afternoon of fishing turned tragic for 16-year-old Michael at Wentworth Falls Lake in the Blue Mountains on Wednesday afternoon.
Fishing was one of the teenager's favourite pastimes.
Michael, who was known as Mikey to his friends, had taken his younger brother along with him to the lake, as they had done many times before, and, just after 5pm, the teenagers snagged a fish.
Michael, a year 12 student at Springwood High School in the Blue Mountains, is believed to have been retrieving the fish when he either slipped or fell into the water, and did not resurface, police said.
His brother and another fisherman are believed to have dived into the water, but were unable to find him.
Police divers recovered Michael’s body about 10.30pm, as his family kept vigil on the banks of the lake.
Cassie said Michael was her ‘‘whole world’’, and she would ‘‘miss the way he always protected me’’.
While they had not been together for very long - ‘‘today is eight months and 15 days’’, Cassie said - she said it was long enough to know that Michael’s sudden death would be felt by so many.
‘‘He would not hurt anyone. Everyone loved him and he loved everyone,’’ Cassie said.
She also wrote a message to Mikey on Facebook, saying: ‘‘I love you more than the moon loves the stars, plants love the sun and fish love the water. Thankyou for being there for me, I will never forget you Mikey Ryall.’’
Cassie’s mother, Sandra Dennis, also paid tribute to Michael, whom she described as genuine, down to earth and wise beyond his years.
‘‘He really was the boy next door,’’ Mrs Dennis said.
‘‘He was exactly who you'd want your daughter to end up with, and I can honestly say we were blessed to have him in our lives. I've got daughters, and I loved him like a son I never had.
‘‘He was one of these amazing souls that came into our lives for a short time, but made a big impact. We're heartbroken, and we’re grasping at straws just at what to do.’’
Mrs Dennis said Mikey played cricket for Penrith and was a talented fast bowler. He also had a ‘‘wicked sense of humour’’, and liked doing impersonations.
His blue eyes would light up the room, she said.
‘‘He was very, very devoted to his parents. He was a fantastic role model to his brother, he doted on his little brother, who happened to be with him at the time,’’ Mrs Dennis said.
‘‘I have to say that his dad was his universe. He absolutely worshipped his dad. They’re a very good family, with good values.
‘‘He was a breath of fresh air, that boy. Wise beyond his years. He wasn’t into all the material stuff that young boys are now. He treated our girl with so much love, and they were very young, but I really had a feeling about them.’’
The tragedy occurred during the school holidays, but many Springwood High School students and friends were gathering at the lake on Thursday afternoon to pay tribute to Michael.
Friends of the teenager began arriving at the lake on Thursday afternoon.
They laid bunches of flowers on a stone platform where the water lapped the lake's edge as they arrived.
The teens, some with their parents, cried and hugged one another.
Police tape was still wrapped around a tree overhanging a small creek leading from the lake.
Police are preparing a report for the coroner.
- with Saffron Howden