A 12-year-old girl was murdered and her partially clothed body dumped in undergrowth near a disused school beside a west-Dublin canal.
The child's body was discovered by a man walking his dog at around 4pm yesterday close to Porterstown Gate, Blanchardstown, on the banks of the Royal Canal. There were marks on the girl's body and there were signs of a struggle.
Gardai were last night trying to establish the cause of death of the girl, who was named locally as Michaela Davis from the Village, Porterstown, a housing estate close to where her body was found. The body was removed from the scene late last night. State Pathologist Marie Cassidy will perform a post-mortem examination today.
A 19-year-old man was arrested last night by gardai under Section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act. He was one of two men who presented voluntarily to gardai last night to assist in inquiries.
The 12-year-old was last seen alive by her parents at midnight on Friday after she returned home from a friend's house. It is understood that having returned home, she told her parents she was stepping out for a moment. When she failed to return, her parents notified gardai at 2am. Gardai continued searching for her throughout the day until her body was discovered by a passer-by yesterday.
The scene was closed off for forensic examination last night as gardai launched a top-level murder investigation involving local detectives and the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
State Pathologist Marie Cassidy attended the scene shortly before 6pm last night but left an hour later. It is understood that her preliminary investigations were hampered for a time as gardai experienced difficulties in accessing the girl's body, which was covered in undergrowth.
Detectives are investigating who Michaela intended to meet, and where she went after she left her home. One young person has told gardai that he saw Michaela in the early hours of the morning.
Another teenage girl reported to gardai that she had been in regular text contact with the girl shortly before she disappeared.
She claimed that she received a message from Michaela three hours before she was reported missing. It said: "I am just back from town, sounds fun." The text was accompanied by a 'smiley face' and several kisses.
Michaela is survived by her parents and her brother Brendan, who plays for St Mochta's under-17s football team. The family have lived in Porterstown village for years and are well known in the area.
Michaela was due to start attending secondary school at Luttrellstown Community College this week. She had got her hair done in Blanchardstown Shopping Centre on the day before she died.
The area where Michaela's body was discovered is a well known haunt of teenagers. She was found in undergrowth beside the disused Porterstown School, a large derelict four-story building beside the Royal Canal. Although there is a housing estate nearby, the locality is poorly lit and sparsely populated. The place is so desolate that locals have nicknamed it 'the Haunto'.
Teenagers were spotted hanging out in the area late on Friday night, hours before Michaela disappeared, according to locals. Last night, groups of teenagers congregated there in tears, crying and mourning the loss of Michaela. Fr John Daly, the parish priest of St Mochta's, also attended the scene.
Margaret O'Boyce, the deputy principal of St Mochta's National School, where Michaela had been a pupil up until recently, declined to comment.
Local people described Michaela as a slight, slim girl with long hair.
One friend said that when she last spoke to her on Friday, she was "in brilliant form".
Local politicians last night expressed shock at the discovery of the girl's body.
David McGuinness, a Fianna Fail councillor for the area, said: "A young girl from the locality has clearly lost her life. It's an awful tragedy. The region is quite rural. The people here would not be used to such a tragedy. We would hope that gardai would conduct a thorough inquiry to find out how this young girl lost her life."
Councillor Kieran Dennisson, a Fine Gael councillor in west Dublin said: "The whole area is devastated that this could happen."
The murder of a child is a rarity in Ireland.
The last child to be killed was 11-year-old Robert Holohan, who was killed by a neighbour near Midletown, Co Cork, in January, 2005.
Wayne O'Donoghue, who was convicted of his manslaughter, told gardai that he had argued with young Robert after he threw gravel at O'Donoghue's car. He then put the boy's body in the boot of his car and hid it in thick undergrowth miles away.
Robert's body was found after a week-long search.
Bernadette Connolly, 10, is the last girl murdered other than by a family member.
She disappeared from her home in Colooney, Co Sligo, in April 1970. There were also the high-profile disappearances of Mary Boyle, 6, in Donegal in 1977 and Philip Cairnes, 13, in Dublin in 1986 -- neither body was ever recovered.