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Thursday 18 September 2014

'We are distraught at the death of our much loved daughter' - Elaine O'Hara's family

*Family 'distraught' at death of 'popular and much-loved daughter' * Gardai investigating the murder of Elaine O'Hara (36) have identified her on CCTV
* Elaine is seen on CCTV leaving her apartment on day she was last seen
* A supermarket loyalty card belonging to the victim was found at Roundwood
* Detectives have spoken to 100 people so far
* Gardai now looking to speak to anybody who interacted with victim between Aug 22 and 24
* Elaine's killer may have lured her to graveyard after meeting online

Published 19/09/2013 | 04:00

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Elaine O'Hara (37) was declared missing in August last year
Elaine O'Hara pictured prior to her disapperance
Elaine O'Hara pictured prior to her disapperance

The family of Elaine O'Hara (36) are 'distraught' over her death and have appealed to anybody with information to contact gardai.

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"The O'Hara family are distraught at the death of their popular and much-loved daughter and sister Elaine," a statement issued on behalf of the O'Hara family said today.

The statement urged anybody with information to contact the gardai investigating her death.

Earlier today, it emerged that gardai had identified Ms O'Hara on CCTV on the day she vanished.

Footage shows Ms O’Hara leaving her apartment complex at Belarmine in Stepaside on the August 22.

The investigation team is continuing to go through some 1,600 hours of CCTV footage as part of their investigation.

Meanwhile, a number of items found in a reservoir in Roundwood, Co Wicklow, have been identified as belonging to the victim through her Dunnes Stores loyalty card.

So far gardai have interviewed more than 100 people as part of their investigation.

Meanwhile, gardai believe that Ms O’Hara could have been lured to meet her killer at the cemetery where her car was found abandoned.

Investigating officers were last night checking out a list of people who had been in contact with her in the days prior to her disappearance as Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan issued a warning to internet users to be careful when communicating with strangers.

Officers are trawling through email records on the 37-year-old woman's computer while experts hope to retrieve valuable information from a mobile phone.

The phone was among a series of items recovered from a reservoir in Roundwood, Co Wicklow, in the past week.

As the investigation continued, gardai released fresh pictures of Ms O'Hara and also her turquoise Fiat Punto which was found at Shanganagh Cemetery on August 24, 2012.

Ms O'Hara was declared missing and her fate remained a mystery until a walker came across human remains in the Dublin Mountains near Rathfarnham last Friday.

Gardai are examining the possibility that she could have met her killer on the internet as a result of shared interests, but the Garda Commissioner has warned that it is too early to speculate on any definite link.

He said his officers were keeping an open mind on whether there could be any link between this investigation and other cases of missing women that were being examined under Operation Trace, which was set up to look at the disappearances of six women in the 1990s.

He added: "It is the case that in this particular area it brings back all of the entities involved in Operation Trace." But again he warned it was too early to speculate.

Officers think Ms O'Hara arranged to meet a man at a spot near Shanganagh cemetery in Shankill, where she had parked her car on the evening of August 22 last year.

Her family understood she had gone to the cemetery to visit the grave of her mother, who had died months earlier.

Investigators think she may have arranged to meet a man nearby and possibly left this location in another car.

In urging potential witnesses to come forward, Superintendent Dave Taylor said he wanted to "paint a picture" of Elaine.

He said: "Elaine was a childcare assistant, a very trusted person and very respected.

"She also worked part-time during the summer months in a newsagent's in Blackrock Shopping Centre and was a very, very popular employee with her colleagues.

"On the weekend that Elaine went missing, she had volunteered to work at the Tall Ships festival and was looking forward to that."

COMFORT

On the last day she was seen, she was wearing navy tracksuit bottoms, white runners and a bright-blue zip-up top.

Supt Taylor said that Ms O'Hara's family were "quite upset" but added: "They have got Elaine back, which is of great comfort to them."

He said gardai were engaged in a "major investigation".

"To date we have taken over 120 statements, 130 questionnaires and 1,600 hours of CCTV.

"Searches are continuing at the moment in Killakee to find any more body parts or any more evidence there, so there's an extensive garda operation going on."

Meanwhile, the Garda Commissioner said the garda priority now was to find the rest of her remains and process items that had been been found in Roundwood.

Mr Callinan pointed out that it was too early in their investigation to speculate how Ms O'Hara had met her demise.

He cautioned against speculation and pledged that his force would do their utmost to establish the truth of what had taken place.

He said several garda units were involved in the inquiries and that every avenue of inquiry was being explored.

Asked about meeting people online, the commissioner said the internet was "a marvellous creation" but that people had to be careful about who they communicated with.

His advice to internet users was to know who they are dealing with and to know the circumstances surrounding any business they are carrying out.

"They should exercise reasonable caution and care, as in any other facet of life," Mr Callinan added.

He said that establishing the link between what had been found at Roundwood and the discovery of the body was a result of diligent police work.

CARETAKER

It emerged that the initial find by the caretaker at the Roundwood reservoir – two days before the remains were found 20 kilometres away – consisted of a key fob with a Dunnes Stores loyalty number on it.

The caretaker reported the find to the gardai and it was logged on the garda Pulse computer system, where it was spotted by an officer at the weekend after the body had been found.

Officers decided that further searches should be carried out in Roundwood and the water unit was brought in to comb through the reservoir, while the dog unit backed up local personnel on nearby land on Monday and Tuesday.

As a result of the fresh searches, they recovered clothing which could have fitted Elaine, two mobile phones, along with handcuffs and anklecuffs and other items which could have been used to tie her up during an abduction.

RESERVOIR

Gardai said they were satisfied that the items had been dumped in the reservoir some time ago and had not been left there recently.

But they were not spotted until recently because of the water levels, which had fallen significantly as a result of the dry summer.

Meanwhile, searches are continuing in the undergrowth at Killakee, near where the remains were found a hundred yards in from the roadway by a woman who was looking for her dog.

Gardai are hoping to find the victim's skull, which could be crucial in establishing how she died.

A preliminary post-mortem examination by the deputy State pathologist, Dr Michael Curtis could not determine the cause of death and this has now been left open, pending further garda inquiries.

By Tom Brady and  Cormac McQuinn

Irish Independent

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