Published: 06:00, 12 September 2019
| Updated: 07:52, 12 September 2019
The heartbroken family of a 15-year-old found dead in a field have paid tribute to a “loveable rogue” who “charmed his way through life with his smile”.
Popular Towers School pupil Owen Kinghorn was found in Great Chart at about 9pm on Saturday.
His death, which is not being treated as suspicious by police, sparked scores of tributes this week, with hundreds of people releasing balloons in his memory.
The Year 11 pupil – who had already passed some of his GCSE exams early – had switched to Towers from Norton Knatchbull last year.
Owen’s grandad, David, says the talented footballer will be remembered for his smile.
The 72-year-old said: “As a family we always used to say that Owen’s going to charm his way through life with that smile, but unfortunately it’s been a damn sight shorter than we expected.
“His mum said it best when she said ‘I’ve got a hole in my heart’ and that goes for all of us.
The balloons being released at The Ridge yesterday
“We have been overwhelmed by the response to his death.”
Owen was remembered at The Ridge playing field in Kennington on Tuesday afternoon when up to 300 balloons were released.
The event was organised by a number of his friends, including Demi Sansom and Jamie Hooker, and was attended by hundreds of teenagers.
Miss Sansom, 15, said: “He was my best friend, he was like my brother. I broke down when I heard the news. He’ll be 100% missed by everyone. Everyone’s broken.
“He was such a big part of most people’s lives; at school I keep thinking I’m going to see him walk through the door.”
Owen, who was an Arsenal fan, had a promising football career and David went to all of his club games, proudly taking pictures at each one.
“Owen wanted to play football for some time and his mum started ringing clubs to see if they could fit him in, but they all said they were full,” he said.
“One club, Kennington Juniors FC, said it had a full squad planned but said to bring him along and they’d take a look at him.
“They said ‘we like how he plays’ and took him on.
“Just before the season started, he went over his handlebars and broke his collarbone, so he missed the beginning of the season.
“But in his first game playing for them he was named man-of-the-match.
“I’d drive him to away games and thoroughly enjoyed it – it became a part of our life.”
Owen’s performances as a centre-back were highlighted by the team’s manager in the 2016/17 season when he was presented with the team’s player-of-the-year award.
He had played for Kennington since starting out with its under-11 team, but had just made the move to Folkestone Invicta.
A minute’s silence will be held before games at Ashford United and Kennington Juniors this weekend.
"We always used to say that Owen’s going to charm his way through life with that smile, but unfortunately it’s been a damn sight shorter than we expected..."
An individual tribute that made a particular impact on David was that of Owen’s close friend Tom Ramsden, who played alongside him in midfield last year.
He said: “Apparently Tom scored a cracker of a goal on Sunday and he immediately said, ‘That one was for Owen’.
“That’s when it started hitting me how people feel about him.”
Away from the pitch, Owen was making good academic headway at Towers – which recognised his ability across a range of subjects.
“My lasting memory of him will be when he was in Year 10, about six weeks before Year 11 began their GCSEs,” David said.
“Towers decided it would be putting Owen in for GCSEs, which meant he had a huge amount of work to do in those six weeks.
“The school took him out of the normal school routine and organised tutors for him so he could focus on it.
“He did a lot of revision with me, where he’d come over and I’d say, ‘This is what I want you to do’.
“We are overwhelmed by the response to his death and it’s made us wonder if Owen was fully aware of the friendship and feeling toward him in this world...”
“I spent those six weeks guiding his revision and doing test papers. I thought we had a mountain to climb but they did it because they saw Owen was able to do it.
“We did it and it really helped build a great bond between me and him.
“I’m grateful to Towers because if it hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have had those six weeks with him.”
Out of four exams, Owen attained the top grade in three subjects and the second best rank in the remaining one.
The Kinghorn family say they are also grateful for the support they have had from the school and community.
David said: “We’ve found Towers very supportive and it has made it clear it is there for us.
“From that point of view, what more can you ask? What I’d like to say on behalf of Owen’s family is thank you to all those people who have made tribute comments to Owen.
“We are overwhelmed by the response to his death and it’s made us wonder if Owen was fully aware of the friendship and feeling toward him in this world.”
Prior to his stint at Towers, Owen had attended Norton Knatchbull School, which released a statement.
It said: "Everyone at Norton Knatchbull is shocked and saddened by the news of the sudden passing of Owen Kinghorn, who was a student at the school between 2015 and 2018.
"Staff and students remember him as a lively and capable student and a talented sportsman – particularly in football.
"Our Year 11 squad will pause to remember him before their first match this week and will play this year inspired by his memory."
"He was a very courageous young man..." Tim Hanley
Kennington Juniors FC coach Tim Hanley, who worked with Owen on-and-off following his arrival at the club, heaped praise onto the enthusiastic centre-back.
"He was a very courageous young man and although he wasn't the captain, he led by his performances," he said.
"Owen was a big part of the team, getting man-of-the-match probably five or six times last season.
"I don't think many of the strikers who played against him will forget it - he was very strong and always 100% committed.
"He developed his ability to play over the years and was turning into a great player who could have gone onto playing higher levels of football.
"He always gave 100% and you can't ask for more than that."
More by this authorCharlie Harman