Michael Brooks, 19, was missing for two weeks after vanishing during a late-night trip to the park to watch the stars while high on drugs, an inquest heard.
But there are conflicting accounts how the Huyton teen died.
One woman claims two men held Michael at knifepoint and threw him in the river over an outstanding drugs debt.
Other witnesses, who were drinking whisky and taking drugs and described sitting on the opposite River Ribble bank, in Avenham Park in Penwortham, Lancs, believed they heard voices and splashing on the night he disappeared.
Kelly McWilliams and Thomas Willis, named at Michael’s inquest in Preston on Wednesday, told the court how they shone their torches on their phones and saw what they thought was a silhouette, close to the Old Tram Bridge, where it is alleged the 19-year-old fell off.
The shadow was of someone standing waist deep in water, they said, but when they went to the bridge they could not see anyone there.
Kelly, at the scene at 1.30am on February 6, 2018, told police she didn’t understand how someone could “vanish into thin air”, but thought her judgement was possibly clouded by drugs.
Further complicating the picture, seven months after the tragedy, a young woman contacted police, telling them she’d been informed Michael, who grew up in Merseyside and moved to Preston to go to college in his teens, had been thrown from the Tram Bridge.
She said a friend had told her a young man she knew – known to the inquest only as X – was a murderer and had killed Michael Brooks, reports Lancashire Live.
The woman gave an account of two men, X and Y, meeting up with Michael on the bridge.
Michael was alleged to owe money to “The Avenham Boys” and was given five minutes to repay it.
She said X had threatened Y with a knife, telling him he had to push Michael off the Tram Bridge or he would be stabbed himself.
A few days after hearing the story, the young woman said she went to see Y and asked him about him killing Michael.
She said Y told her: “Yeah, I did, but it’s nowt to do with you.”
But when police investigated, they found records from his Lancashire care home which stated he’d been at the home on the night Michael disappeared.
When detectives approached the woman’s friend – who had told her the story – she denied the story.
At the inquest, Connor Rishton told the court on, January 13, 2018, Michael and close friend Kurt Gregson met up with two other men – Connor and Victor Sumner.
The group spent the evening taking 2CB – a “legal high” with similar effects to LSD, at an address in Preston, where Michael and Kurt lived.
Connor told the inquest: “Michael didn’t like being inside.
“He felt enclosed, trapped.
“He was trying to leave.”
Connor told the inquest he followed Michael out of the building and they set off to walk to Avenham Park, once being caught on CCTV during the journey.
Connor said: “He kept running ahead.
“Every time I caught up with him he’d run off again.”
They passed the Japanese Gardens and a gazebo, but Michael stopped when he came to a hedge, saying he couldn’t get past.
Connor said: “I went around and told him to follow me, but by the time I got to the gazebo he’d gone.
“I haven’t seen him since.”
Connor told the court he looked for Michael in the park but could not find him as it was dark and he was hearing strange noises.
Thinking he had gone back to the flat, Connor set off home and left the park.
Today, after Coroner James Newman said he unable to determine how the Knowsley man died, his family urged anyone with information to help them solve the tragic riddle.
Looking for the latest news where you live?
Our free new website In Your Area has news and other information like jobs, funeral notices, traffic and travel, houses for sale and more – based around your postcode
We also have an In Your Area app that’s free to download to your phone too.
Aunt Cheryl Stewart, said: “We don’t want rumours or further upset or confusion, but we would appeal for people to think back to that day, and anything that sticks out – please, go to the police.”
Drones and divers were deployed in the hunt for Michael, while friends and family scoured the park.
He was eventually found after drifting downstream.
A post mortem into his death revealed he’d drowned, but it did not find any other signs of injury.
Recording an open verdict into Michael’s death, Coroner Newman said: “With all the best will in the world, I don’t think we are ever going to get all the answers.
“Other than someone coming forward and saying, ‘yes, I was involved in this incident’ or ‘neither of us was there,’ and it is fully nailed on that there was no altercation between Michael and X and Y on the bridge, there remains that doubt.”
Why we’re doing this story – We have a mix of stories, many of them hugely positive about the city. We will not though, ignore crime as it impacts on many lives.
In deciding which crimes to write about, we consider a range of issues including the severity of the crime, the threat to public safety and the wider context in which it happened. We do not seek to glamorise crime or criminals, rather to shine a spotlight on what is happening in our city.
All our stories are compiled using a mix of reporting from the scene, background knowledge and experience, information from the police and our reporter contacts.
Anything else you need to know – The Liverpool Echo has a dedicated crime reporter in Joe Thomas. You can email Joe via firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for reading. if you want to ask us any more questions about what the Liverpool Echo does, please email email@example.com
In a statement, Michael’s mum Joanne said: “I know nothing that happens today (at the inquest) will change the outcome.
“I’m not a crazy mum looking for justice.
“I am a heartbroken mum looking for answers.”
At the time of his death, touching messages were paid to the “beautiful”, “caring” and “quirky” teenager.
His aunt said: “He was such a caring and kind kid everyone who met him loved him.
“He loved exploring and would go camping in the woods and climbing trees and do a lot of urban exploring.
Your GP is a good place to start. They can discuss your problems with you and get you into treatment.
They may offer you treatment at the practice or refer you to your local drug service.
If you’re not comfortable talking to your GP, you can approach your local drug treatment service yourself.
Visit the Frank website to find local drug treatment services.
If you’re having trouble finding the right sort of help, call the Frank drugs helpline on 0300 123 6600. They can talk you through all your options.
“His mum and him were as thick as thieves – she was his absolute world.
“For a long time it was only him and her and when his siblings came along they were such a lovely family unit.”
Police said at this time the death is not being treated as suspicious.
His cousin Chloe Stewart added: “My heart is breaking into a million pieces and I’m falling apart, wish I could of done more for you baby boy.
“Look over us, babe.
“I love you to the moon and stars and I’ll miss you forever.”