He strangled his girls, then killed himself in a fireball
Young mother left distraught by news of murder-suicide
Published 17/11/2010 | 05:00
A young mother was being comforted last night after her husband apparently took his own life after killing their two daughters.
Gardai fear the deaths of John Butler and his daughters, Zoe (7) and Ella (2), outside the east Cork village of Ballycotton yesterday morning involved a murder-suicide.
Officially, the deaths are being treated as suspicious. But sources said gardai were not looking for anyone else in their investigation.
The little girls' distraught mother, Una Butler, was being supported by family and friends last night as she struggled to cope with the enormity of the triple tragedy.
The woman -- who comes from one of Ballycotton's oldest families -- left the family home as normal at 8am yesterday to go to work in Cork city.
She was then contacted by gardai at 10am to say her husband had died in a single-vehicle accident and her two daughters had been found dead in a front room of the family bungalow.
Mr Butler -- a construction worker who grew up in Cobh -- was discovered dead in a Toyota Yaris car, which crashed into a ditch on the Shanagarry-Ballycotton road and then exploded into flames.
The 41-year-old was a lifelong GAA fan and had played football with East Cork divisional side, Imokilly.
Locals said he was absolutely devoted to his wife and two daughters.
The family had only recently celebrated a birthday party.
The accident happened less than 2km from the Butler family home -- and Mr Butler died when the car, having embedded itself in the ditch, erupted into flames.
The fuel tank exploded on impact and it emerged that Mr Butler had called to a petrol station, bought fuel, and doused himself in it before driving off and crashing.
Gardai were called to the scene at 9.40am -- and were shocked when, at 9.50am, they called to the Butler family home as part of their crash inquiry and discovered the bodies of the two little girls lying in a front room.
Both are believed to have died from strangulation or asphyxiation.
Zoe was wearing her school clothes when she was found side-by-side with her little sister.
Mr Butler had been unemployed for over a year but had previously worked in constrution and as a crane operator.
It was understood he had been treated for depression as an outpatient in the wake of having lost his job.
Shocked locals and neighbours last night defied driving wind and rain to place flowers outside the family bungalow.
Post-mortem examinations on all three deceased began last night at Cork University Hospital with three pathologists, Professor Marie Cassidy, Dr Michael Curtis and Dr Margaret Bolster.
Supt Flor Horan and Supt John Gilligan described the incident as "a terrible tragedy" and said they could not comment on the nature of their investigation until after the results of the post-mortems.
Gardai have set up a special incident room at Midleton garda station and appealed to anyone who may have seen the Toyota Yaris car after 8am yesterday morning or who may have spotted suspicious activity near the Butler family home to contact them.
Both the crash site and the Butler home were sealed off last night pending the completion of detailed technical examinations by garda forensic experts.
Motorists were warned to expect diversions on the main approach road to Ballycotton.
It is not the first time tragedy has struck Una's family. Una, who has a twin Declan, lost her brother Michael in a motorcycle accident four years ago.