Tributes to 'sweet and caring' Exeter woman, 21, killed by fallen tree
TRIBUTES have been paid to a young city woman who was killed by a falling tree during the floods in Exeter.
Michelle Conroy was sleeping rough in a tent on Western Way, near the junction with Barnfield Road, when the tree fell on the tent and damaged a wall.
Two men, aged 27 and 35, also suffered injuries.
The three were taken to hospital where 21-year-old Michelle was pronounced dead a short time later.
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Friends of Miss Conroy described her as a "sweet and caring" person who was always there for her friends.
And a canon missioner at Exeter Cathedral described her as a "quiet and polite" girl who had suffered a "sad, broken childhood".
Rachael Smith, 20, was in foster care with Michelle when the pair were around 14 years old. She told the Echo: "I burst out crying when I heard what had happened.
"I hadn't seen her in a while, but used to speak to her on Facebook, so it was a really big shock.
"Michelle was in foster care for a while when she was younger. We were in foster care together in Plymouth and she was also in care in Exeter.
"We were really good friends – she was such a caring, lovely person. If you had any problems, you could talk to her, she was so sweet. She didn't do drugs or alcohol – she wasn't that sort of person. I don't know why it happened to her – it's absolutely devastating."
Michelle is believed to have been homeless but often stayed with friends in the city.
The Rev Canon Anna Norman-Walker, a Diocesan Missioner at Exeter Cathedral, told the Echo she saw the 21-year-old the night before her death.
"Michelle was a regular at our Friday Night Café at St Petcock's Church in the High Street," she said.
"She was a quiet person and private in many ways, but always polite and thankful for what was offered.
"We shall always remember her as the 'orange squash girl' as this is what she liked to drink.
"Unlike many of our visitors, Michelle wasn't dependant on drugs or alcohol, neither did she have any significant mental health issues, but rather she was a young person who was a lonely soul with a sad, broken childhood who simply couldn't sustain an independent life.
"The street community were her family, friends and support network. We are all terribly sad to have lost her from our 'Friday family'."
Childhood friend Mary Parsons, a 20-year-old childminder's assistant, told the Echo she had no idea Michelle had been sleeping rough.
"Michelle kept coming and going when she was younger as she tried her best to stay away from foster care. She wanted to go back home to her mum," she said.
"She had lots of friends because she kept moving. I was shocked to hear about her death as I only spoke to her last week.
"She was so lovely – she was one of those people who didn't care what people thought of her. She was a big girl but never wanted to be skinny and liked how she looked. She gave me a lot of confidence.
"If I had known she was staying in a tent, I would have told her to come and stay with me. I know she slept rough a couple of times but she never told me she was homeless."
Michelle lived with Mary at her family's home in Buckfastleigh for a period and the pair went to school together at South Dartmoor College in Ashburton.
"I keep hoping it's the wrong person and not her," she said.
"We didn't see much of each other anymore because she moved around, but we talked on Facebook."
The Echo has seen scores of messages which have been left in tribute for Michelle on her Facebook page, including one from her boyfriend David Browning, who is believed to have been with her in the tent when they were hit by a tree.
He wrote: "I'm gonna miss you so much babygal. I will never ever forget you, you were one in a million. RIP sweetheart."
Another friend Lisa Gabriel, 26, of Galahad Close, Exeter, told the Echo: "She lived with me on and off. Sometimes she would go off and stay out for a while and then she would come back again.
"I heard from a friend that the girl who got hit by the tree was Michelle. She was a good friend of mine.
"If she had come back to mine, she would still be here now. This has been a big shock.
"I had known her about two years, she was a nice person and would always help out if you needed it.
"She didn't have a place of her own but she had more friends in Exeter than anywhere else."
Michelle's mum Carol and brother are understood to be living in Guernsey.
Strong winds and torrential rainfall are believed to be responsible for the incident.
A man who received treatment in hospital for his injuries following the incident on Saturday evening has now been released.
A police spokesman said: "At around 11.50pm on Saturday night, November 24, police received a report of a tree which had fallen on Western Way, near to junction with Barnfield Road in Exeter. The tree was reported to have landed on or near to three people. On arrival at the scene three casualties were confirmed.
"A very large spruce tree had come down across a wall into the roadway.
"This is a tragic incident and our thoughts are with the deceased's family and friends."
Police are preparing a report for the coroner and an inquest into Michelle's death is expected to be opened shortly.