LIKE most other parents throughout the country, my heart cries out for the family of Thomas Heinrich, the 22-year-old German student killed in the small hours of Saturday morning. Such a merciless, violent, senseless attack on a young man with his life ahead of him, now cut short just three weeks before he was due to return home for good.
As part of their post-graduate study, Thomas and his friend Robert Rinker – also 22 and also stabbed in the incident – had to spend their third semester abroad. They chose Dublin. That's the first of the 'if- onlys' that will shatter the hearts of their parents in the weeks and months ahead. If only they had gone to Cork, Rome, Paris or London. If only they had been somewhere else that night. If only...
Sadly, tragedies like this can and do happen anywhere. In 2010, a young Spaniard was fatally stabbed by a Dublin man in Tenerife. In August, 28-year-old Gerard Burnett was stabbed to death in Mulhuddart, and it hardly seems like three years since 22-year-old Sebastian Creane was stabbed to death in his home in Bray by 22-year-old Shane Clancy, who then turned the knife on himself.
I naively used to think it was safer to raise children in Ireland than in the likes of the United States, where guns are part of the equation. But knife attacks have become so commonplace in this country, it's no wonder that parents worry. This is a dangerous place and, short of wrapping your adult children in cotton wool and urging them to spend their evenings at home with Mammy, you've got to let them go and hope for the best.
This is especially true now that we're hurtling toward Christmas, the season of parties and beer and heaving accident and emergency departments.
You think when your kids hit their 20s, you don't have to worry any more. But you do, especially these days when a typical night out starts with 'pre-drinking' with friends at home, who all troop out as you head for bed. Lord knows what drinking continues on the bus. Then there's the beer or cocktails in a club and home at about 4 or 5am.
One mother cried as she told me of her 21-year-old son whose drink had been spiked and he couldn't remember where he'd been or how he'd got home, but he arrived at the door at eight in the morning with a black eye and a broken nose.
Even though that happened two years ago, he remains cautious about socialising in unfamiliar places and she doesn't relax on his nights out until she hears the key turn in the door and she can breathe a sigh of relief that he's home.
Yet compared to the parents of Thomas Heinrich, she counts herself lucky. She still has her son while they have to grieve for theirs.