A FATHER murdered his two young sons and then attempted suicide as he drove at speed into a wall with a makeshift noose around his neck, gardai believe.
The bodies of Eoghan Chada (10) and his younger brother Ruairi (5) were discovered in the boot of their father's wrecked Ford Focus car following a nationwide alert for the missing boys.
Gardai believe they died at the hands of their stay-at-home father Sanjeev Chada (43) who was discovered injured at the scene near Westport, Co Mayo, with a makeshift noose around his neck.
It is understood the brothers may have died by suffocation or strangulation but gardai are awaiting the results of an autopsy.
The boys had disappeared after leaving the family home in Ballinkillen, Bagenalstown in Co Carlow on Sunday night. They were the subject of a nationwide search amid fears that Mr Chada had taken them away after telling his wife, nurse Kathleen Chada, that he would bring them bowling locally.
Gardai issued the first ever amber alert for missing children – a Child Rescue Ireland (CRI) appeal – after he failed to return home with them. Officers said they had no knowledge of any breakdown in relations in the family and insisted the couple were not estranged.
As detectives continued to piece together events leading up to the appalling tragedy, the Irish Independent learned that Mr Chada, who ran a small computer business from home, was at the centre of an investigation into the alleged embezzlement of €50,000 from a local organisation in Co Carlow.
Sources revealed that the matter had recently come to light and a garda investigation was about to begin.
Gardai are examining the case to see if it is in any way linked to the murders of the two boys and their father's attempted suicide.
Mr Chada was last night brought to Mayo General Hospital in Castlebar but his injuries are not thought to be life-threatening.
Gardai have also confirmed that Mr Chada is in an "extremely distressed" state but said they intend to arrest him on suspicion of murder when doctors say he is fit enough to be discharged.
The bodies of the two children were discovered when local gardai had gone to investigate a crash at Cloneen, Rosbeg, about 7km from Westport, at around 3pm.
Gardai initially believed they were dealing with a routine single-car crash.
However, on arrival at the scene, they found Mr Chada in a distressed state, and discovered the bodies of two young boys in the car boot.
Mr Chada had to be cut from the wreckage by a fire crew. Witnesses described how the car had careered down a by-road at speed before crashing into a wall.
"He was travelling at speed and hit the wall. It looked intentional. Locals heard the bang and came out to investigate. The guards were on the scene within five minutes," said one local man.
"I saw them cut the father out of the car. He seemed to be badly enough injured. There wasn't much blood but he was unconscious.
"One of the first people on the scene had seen the two boys in the boot of the car. It was a sight they won't get over for a long time."
Gardai are now waiting to interview Mr Chada, whose injuries are not serious. He will be questioned after gardai are given the go ahead by medical staff.
Last night officers issued an appeal for witnesses who may have seen Mr Chada criss-cross the country with his young sons.
Garda spokesman Superintendent David Taylor appealed for anyone who may have seen the green Ford Focus, registration 06 CW 238 at petrol stations, restaurants or hotels from 6.30pm on Sunday evening until 3.25pm yesterday.
"I'm particularly interested in talking to the owners of garages, shop owners, bed and breakfasts, hotels. It's a distinctive green Ford Focus. It may have passed you. It may not have drawn your attention but with subsequent events it now becomes important."
Deputy State Pathologist Dr Khalid Jabbar arrived in Westport shortly after 9.30pm. He carried out a preliminary examination of the children's bodies at the scene.
The bodies of the two boys were then removed to Mayo General Hospital.
Full post-mortems will be carried out today on the remains of the two boys.
"The result of this post-mortem will determine the nature and the direction of this investigation," said Supt Taylor.
Gardai have opened an incident room in Westport and are liaising closely with colleagues in Carlow in relation to the investigation.
Eoghan and Ruairi were described as extremely popular and "two little sports fanatics".
They were members of the local junior hurling club, Ballinkillen, and had played at under-10 and under-six level.
Father Declan Foley, parish priest near their home in the tight-knit village, was with the Chada family when news of the car accident was broken to the boys' mother and other relatives.
"It was like an earthquake hit the place. It was devastating for all of us," he said.
"You can't put into words the shock and numbness and pain and grief of that news coming through."
Mrs Chada, a nurse, was originally from the area and lives near where her parents, Willie and Patsy Murphy, have a home.
It is understood Mr Murphy, who was in his daughter's house with the boys' grandmother when the family were notified of their deaths, had to be treated for shock.
Most of the coaching staff, members and officials from the hurling club were too shaken to talk about the boys.
A spokeswoman for the club said the whole community wanted to extend their condolences to the family.
Mr Chada was last seen with the children at 6.30pm on Sunday leaving their home to go to the Dome Bowling Centre in Carlow town.
They were officially recorded as missing at 1.30am yesterday.
Nationwide alerts, broadcasts, social media and traffic and travel messages were issued for several hours about the missing boys and the search for Mr Chada's car.
The scene of the crash remained sealed off last night and was preserved for a technical examination.
Gardai have appealed for anyone with information to contact them at Westport garda station on 098 50230.
- By Caroline Crawford, Paul Williams and Cormac McQuinn
Carlow to Mayo: How the tragedy unfolded