The nightmare of Christmas
Inquest relives horror killing of mum and girls
A WOMAN murdered with her daughters on Christmas morning may have been pinned down and then strangled during a sex act, an inquest has heard.
The bodies of Sharon Whelan (30) and her daughters Zsara (7) and Nadia (2) were found by neighbours in their burning home early on December 25, 2008.
Sharon was already dead when the fire started.
State Pathologist Marie Cassidy yesterday said she may have been strangled "during a sex act" and "could have been pinned down".
A jury at Kilkenny Coroner's Court yesterday returned verdicts of "death by murder" in the cases of Sharon and her daughters who lived in a rented farmhouse in the townland of Roscon, near Windgap in Co Kilkenny.
Postal worker Brian Hennessy (23), from Windgap, is already serving two consecutive life sentences after pleading guilty last November at the Central Criminal Court to the three murders.
Dr Cassidy told the inquest of injuries on Sharon's body consistent with "forced penetration". She said she could not exclude the possibility that penetration occurred after Sharon was strangled.
The injuries around Sharon's neck were consistent with manual strangulation and this was the cause of death.
There was no evidence of a raised level of carbon monoxide in her blood which meant the woman was already dead when the fire started.
The bodies of both Zsara and Nadia had a lining of soot and smoke along the airways, with no evidence of assault and no heat damage apart from superficial damage to Zsara's shin, according to the pathologist.
Death was due to the inhalation of smoke and fire gases.
In a statement, neighbour Michael Landy described how he went into the house after 9.13 on Christmas morning and found the three bodies.
Another neighbour, Jim Slattery, drove to the scene, calling the fire service on the way.
The farmhouse was in flames when ambulances arrived at the scene and the three bodies were outside.
One man was giving CPR to a little girl wearing a BabyGro who had dirt and smoke on her face, while mouth-to-mouth resuscitation was performed on the other girl. However, both were pronounced dead shortly afterwards. Their mother was also dead.
Afterwards Sharon Whelan's brother John said the family found it "horrific" to listen to the evidence again, some months after reliving their ordeal at the Central Criminal Court.
"What's keeping us going is that the family are so strong and united," he told reporters.
"We're so close in every way. It's a tribute to my mother and father, how strong they are. The support we're getting from our friends and families and the surrounding community is unbelievable and it's really seen us through."
Mr Whelan said the conclusion of the inquest was "another step along the way to trying to get some sort of closure."
Coroner Timothy Kiely offered his condolences to the family and to the Windgap community.
He said they had endured "a shocking experience" which would take some time to get over.