Dad shot dead on Costa after trying to defuse row
Published 30/07/2010 | 05:00
THE family of an Irish father of two shot dead in Spain has described him as an innocent bystander who doted over his children.
Police are still searching for a Liverpool man who is the prime suspect for the murder of John O'Neill from Dublin.
Last night, members of Mr O'Neill's family broke their silence for the first time and said the Coolock man, who was shot in the stomach, was a happy figure who constantly had a smile on his face.
Mr O'Neill (41), from Bunratty Drive, was shot dead outside Coco's bar in the holiday resort of Benalmadena on the Costa del Sol in the early hours of Wednesday.
He had tried to defuse an argument that began after another man in the bar had tried to gain access to a locked toilet cubicle.
"He was just a gorgeous, big soft guy, always with a smile on his face. That is one way we will always remember him, with a smile on his face -- smiley face," Mr O'Neill's aunt Peig Dowdall said on RTE.
"It is like something happening outside, somewhere else. You hear of shootings all the time. Every other day you are hearing of shootings and you are wondering what kind of a person they are that was shot.
"With John, he was just in the wrong place. There weren't any Irish involved in the argument. Seemingly it just happened in the bar and this guy went back off, got a gun and John was just in the way of the fire. Now, as a result, he is dead."
The prime suspect had earlier been involved in a row in the pub's toilets when he began banging on the door of a locked cubicle. Mr O'Neill had apparently attempted to restore calm in the bar.
Staff ejected the suspect from the pub as he continued to argue with some of the 30-strong group that included Mr O'Neill and his partner Maxine.
The group had flown to Spain to celebrate a friend's wedding and were having a quiet drink in the bar when the row erupted.
The suspect returned to the bar with a gun as Mr O'Neill was leaving and fired at least five shots from a .38 calibre revolver before he fled on foot.
He shot Mr O'Neill, who staggered to a nearby bus stop before collapsing on the street. The suspect then fired more shots into the bar, scattering customers inside the door.
Paramedics arrived quickly but were unable to help the Dubliner, who was pronounced dead at the scene. Mr O'Neill's partner, who received treatment for shock, later made a statement to police.
Witnesses said the incident could have ended in a massacre as the bullets sprayed the pub. Mr O'Neill is the father of two children -- son Jake (3) and baby daughter Jasmine (nine months). He worked as a plasterer and was well liked by neighbours and locals in the Coolock area where he played darts and was a keen pigeon enthusiast.
Questions have now arisen over when his body will be brought home.
"There is a family there which is completely devastated by what has happened and they have lost a beautiful son," Ms Dowdall said.
"We have to wait until the Spanish decide that he can come home. Seemingly it is very difficult to get him home. And that is one thing that is really destroying Angela and Hugh (Mr O'Neill's parents).
"As Hugh said this morning they just want to have him buried somewhere where they can visit him."
The Department of Foreign Affairs has been providing consular assistance to the family of Mr O'Neill in Spain.