A rough sleeper who was killed by a falling tree was only living on the streets to be with her homeless boyfriend, it emerged today.
Michelle Conroy, 21, was sleeping in a tent in Exeter, Devon, when the giant willow was brought down by 60mph winds on Saturday night.
Michelle’s boyfriend David Browning, 27, originally from Newton Abbot, was one of two men who were also injured.
Yesterday it emerged that Michelle had a troubled childhood and was in and out of foster care but did not have drink or drug problems.
Childhood friend Mary Parsons, 20, said Michelle was living with friends at a house in Plymouth but moved to Exeter to be with Mr Browning “a few months ago”.
She said: “I spoke to her a week before she died and she didn’t mention being homeless.
“If I had known she could have come to stay with me. It was David that was homeless and she went there to be with him.
“He’s absolutely devastated and asking why it had to be her and not him.
“Michelle was so lovely. I had some issues with my looks and she gave me the confidence to get out there.”
Michelle lived with Mary at her family’s home in Buckfastleigh, Devon, for a period and the pair went to school together at South Dartmoor College, Ashburton.
She was born on Guernsey but moved to a foster family in Devon.
Mary said Michelle’s mum, Carole, and younger brother Jason still live on the island.
She said: “They were very close but her mum had problems so she couldn’t live with her.
“They spoke every single day on the phone. Michelle left foster care when she was 18 and then lived with the families of friends.”
Michelle left school in 2007 with one qualification and went to live in Plymouth.
The Reverend Canon Anna Norman-Walker, a Diocesan Missioner at Exeter Cathedral, described Michelle as a “quiet and polite” girl who had suffered a “sad, broken childhood”.
She said: “Michelle was a regular at our Friday Night Café at St Petcock’s Church in the High Street.
“She was a quiet person and private in many ways, but always polite and thankful for what was offered.
“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’.”
Rachael Smith, 20, was in foster care with Michelle when the pair were around 14 years old.
She said: “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.”
Another friend Lisa Gabriel, 26, of Exeter, said: “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.”
Mr Browning is among scores of people who have left tributes to his girlfriend on Facebook.
His message says: “I’m gonna miss you so much babygal. I will never ever forget you, you were one in a million. RIP sweetheart.”