A “popular” and “bright” 12-year-old girl died after she was stabbed following an argument in Liverpool city centre.
Ava White had been in the city with friends on Thursday following a Christmas lights switch-on when she suffered “catastrophic injuries” in an assault at 8.39pm, Merseyside Police said.
Four boys, one aged 13, two aged 14 and one 15-year-old, remain in custody after they were arrested on suspicion of murder.
On Friday, flowers were being laid on Church Street in tribute to the Notre Dame Catholic College pupil, as forensics officers and police searched the scene.
A balloon was left by 17-year-old Lacey, who did not want to give her surname, who said her younger sister had been close friends with Ava.
She said: “She was just a bubbly character, so loving and caring.
“She came out with her friends to enjoy herself and I think it’s just wrong that this has happened.”
Headteacher Peter Duffy said: “She was an incredibly popular girl with a fantastic group of friends.”
Rebecca Flynn, headteacher of Ava’s former school, Trinity RC Primary, said: “Our prayers and thoughts are with Ava’s family and her friends. We are left with lasting memories of a bright and respectful little girl.”
Assistant Chief Constable Ngaire Waine said the incident was “sad for the city” but “even sadder” for Ava’s family.
She said: “We will put everything we can to ensure we get justice for her but then I’m sure we will be looking at whether there were things we could have done, or our partners could have done, that might have made a difference, because we never want another 12-year-old, here or anywhere else, to be murdered when they are out and about having fun with their friends.”
Detective Superintendent Sue Coombs, who is leading the investigation, said Ava had been involved in a “verbal argument” which escalated into an “assault on her with a knife”, but a weapon had not yet been recovered.
She said: “We are able to say there has been a verbal argument and there has been an assault, and the offenders ran off up School Lane, across Hanover Street and into Fleet Street.”
The four teenagers were arrested during the course of the evening and early hours of Friday, she said.
Ava was taken to Alder Hey Children’s Hospital after paramedics arrived, but died a short time later.
She said: “We heard screams and someone said to call an ambulance.
“My granddaughter said she saw some young guys running off.
“We rushed over straight away but there was already a man helping her.”
Ms Coombs said officers would be trawling through hundreds of hours of CCTV and urged members of the public who were in the city centre to check their phones for photos and footage which might help the investigation.
Anyone with footage can send it to police via https://mipp.police.uk//operation/05MP19M36-PO1.