Caught in crossfire of a murderous feud
Sixteen years of age, and an innocent passenger, Melanie McNamara died in a hail of bullets intended for her fiance
AT around 10pm last Tuesday, Melanie McNamara stepped off the Luas in Tallaght and into her fiance's waiting car. Christopher Moran, 21, usually collected her when she returned from trips to town with friends.
In a community riven by warring gangs, members of his family had been shot at and petrol-bombed; it was too dangerous to allow her to make her way home alone.
That night, he was the target, detectives suspect, but his fiancee took the hit.
Within half an hour 16-year-old Melanie was dead, a child caught in the crossfire of a murderous feud that wasn't of her making.
The assassination bore all the hallmarks of a gangland killing.
They were lured to a house on Brookview Way, a nondescript council estate in Tallaght's urban sprawl. Some one had phoned to say rocks had been thrown at the windows. Instead of returning to Drumcairn Avenue, where Melanie lived with Christopher and his family, they drove by to check it out.
There was Christopher in the front passenger seat, his friend driving and Melanie and a fourth man sitting in the back. The killers were waiting, in a Hyundai Santa Fe SUV, stolen three days earlier in Rathmines, and fitted with number plates stolen from Wood Quay. There were at least two men and possibly a third in the back seat, so that when the Hyundai drew parallel with the Nissan, the window came down and a gun was aimed at Christopher Moran.
In those fateful seconds, perhaps in an instinctive bid to escape, the car lunged forward, putting Melanie, and not her fiance, directly in the line of fire.
The killers fled. Christopher Moran, his fiancee close to death in the back seat, at first took chase but then sped to Tallaght Hospital.
Melanie died there shortly after 1am.
Gardai believe she and her family were unintended victims of feuding gangs fighting for dominance of the drug trade, waging their battle on a council estate, running their critics out of the area while another generation was sucked into the feud. Embroiled in the feud were settled Travellers and west Dublin gangsters, most of them young and violent. Local residents told last week of how for months families have been run out of their homes, of bomb attacks, shootings and intimidation.
There were tales of teenagers used as drug mules and runners. According to local gardai, a teenager had a gun put to his head for refusing to store drugs.
Melanie's family are not involved in this feud but gardai nonetheless have good reason to fear Melanie's murder will be avenged by others.
The Garda Commissioner, Martin Callinan, called for calm: "It is a time for reflection, it's a time for calm and more importantly it is a time for the people who have knowledge about the perpetrators of this crime to come forward and assist the gardai and assist the democratic organs of the state," he said, dispatching the Emergency Response Unit in a public display of imposing law and order on a grim Tallaght housing estate that has been long entrenched in gang warfare.
Melanie, however, was relatively new to it all. She was born in Limerick to settled Traveller parents. Her mother, Melissa, grew up in the city and attended the Presentation secondary school.
Her mother moved to London with her daughter, raising her child there. Melanie often returned to Limerick to visit her extended family with her mother, and moved back to Ireland permanently a few years ago, settling in Tallaght.
It's thought that she had been going out with Christopher Moran for 18 months and, in the Traveller tradition, Melanie got engaged at the tender age of 16. According to relatives, they planned to marry next year.
To Melissa, Melanie would always be her little girl. "I look at you and I do not see the passage of time. I see my little girl playing dress-up, running through the yard, playing on a swing. . . to me you will always be my little girl," she wrote in tribute to her daughter.
Melanie was 13, going on 14, when the events that fuelled this savage turf war took place three years ago. And she had probably never even heard of Stephen O'Halloran, a 20-year-old also murdered in a drive-by shooting. He was the father of a three-year-old child and was what detectives called a small time player in the drugs scene.
On January 19, 2009, he sat in a car with two friends outside his home on a Tallaght housing estate.
Shortly before midnight, two gunmen approached on either side of the car and fired in more than 10 shots because a local gang thought he was getting too big for his boots.
One of the two gunmen was David Patchell. He was also 20, an apprentice plumber from Tallaght who had played soccer for Shamrock Rovers as a teenager.
When he was arrested, Patchell at first said nothing, but eventually he caved in. He claimed he had no choice but to carry out the shooting because a criminal gang effectively had him by the balls. The gang had accused him -- wrongly he claimed -- of stealing €5,000 worth of cocaine, and forced him to do the job to clear his debt. If he didn't, he claimed, both Patchell and his family would be killed.
"I didn't intend to kill anyone. The first bullet I shot, the gun nearly flew out of my hand," he said. Patchell eventually "sang his heart out", his trial heard, but he refused to name the second gunman.
But he had confided in his best friend, Paul Byrne, who was also 20 and from Tallaght
and a young father. Months after Mr O'Halloran's murder, Paul Byrne vanished. His body was found in the Dublin Mountains, murdered by the same gang because, although he had nothing to do with them, they feared he would rat them out to gardai.
Patchell was convicted of Mr O'Halloran's murder last April. His senior counsel said that he "could have been the next Robbie Keane."
In recent months, a campaign of retribution for Mr O'Halloran's death intensified. None of this would have concerned Melanie but for the fact that the gang out for revenge wrongly believed that members of her fiance's family were involved in O'Halloran's murder.
The Moran family home on Drumcairn Avenue was subjected to pipe bomb attacks. Shots were fired through the windows. Christopher's father was shot in the arm when a gunman opened fire through the window of their home and according to gardai, there have been numerous "public order incidents".
In the weeks leading up to last Tuesday's brutal murder, the atmosphere was fraught.
The killers -- at least five were involved -- took time to plan their hit, stealing the car and the registration plates, preparing the guns and setting up the trap to lure Christopher Moran to Brookview Way.
Detectives believe the shock of murdering a teenage girl caused them to panic. They drove off, towards City West, abandoning the jeep off the Naas Road and making no attempt to cover their tracks. They left the two unspent cartridges on the floor of the car. The gun, a balaclava and gloves were discarded nearby, all intact and rich in potential forensic evidence. As they fled, two of the gang were caught clearly on CCTV cameras.
Detectives are following a trail of clues leading back to the killers, hoping to get them before the gang that has supposedly put a price on their heads, spawning another cycle of mindless vengeance murders. The two chief suspects are on the run. Judging by the evidence scattered in their wake, it would appear that even they were shocked by what they did.
Melanie's family is paying the ultimate price for their actions. None more so than her fiance. A simple note left where she died contained his heartbreaking apology: "Baby I'm so sorry. I love you with all my heart. I love you always and forever Baby girl. Rest in Peace."