Saturday 19 October 2019

'I watched the footage of a gunman murdering my friend'

A vigil is being held in St Stephen's Green, Dublin following the killing of journalist Lyra McKee
A vigil is being held in St Stephen's Green, Dublin following the killing of journalist Lyra McKee
The scene of unrest in Creggan, Derry. Photo: PA
Heavilly armed police guard a crime scene during unrest in the Creggan area of Derry Photo credit: Niall Carson/PA Wire
A PSNI officer conducts a search after shots where reportedly fired in Creggan, Derry. Photo: PA

Hugh Jordan

Shortly after midnight on Thursday, I was about to call it a day and go to bed, when my mobile phone pinged with a social media message.

An hour earlier, I had been aware of rioting in Derry as a result of an on-going PSNI security operation in Derry’s Creggan district.

On opening the Whatsapp message, I watched riot scenes, I’d witnessed a hundred times before.

Young masked men were hurling petrol bombs at armoured police jeeps in Fanad Drive and there were two or three vehicles on fire.

Nothing unusual in that, I thought.

But suddenly a masked man in dark clothing appeared from nowhere. He was brandishing a hand-held firearm and he crouched down at the street corner.

And using metal railings as cover, he placed both hands on the gun and fired a number of shots in the direction of police jeeps which were facing in the opposite direction.

What I didn’t realise at the time - and I only learned it a few minutes later, when a second message arrived in my phone - the gunman had just fired the shot which a short time later, claimed the life of my friend and fellow journalist Lyra McKee.

Lyra (29) was from Belfast and she is the latest victim of the so-called ‘New IRA’ – a violent dissident republican group - with pockets of residual support in Belfast, Derry and Lurgan.

An openly gay woman and a tenacious battler for LBGT rights, she had recently moved to the Maiden City to be with her partner.

She had gained a reputation for investigative long form journalism. And she was about to launch the first instalment of a three-book deal with the prestigious Faber publishers.

Diminutive in size with large black glasses, Lyra had a distinctive appearance.

With a slightly shy disposition about her strangers could been forgiven for thinking she was timid. She wasn’t in the slightest. And Lyra was extremely well connected.

She was as well-known in senior police circles, as she was with the advocates of violent republicanism who took her life.

One bullet struck Lyra on the head and she dropped to the ground at the side of a police jeep. She was wearing a dark jacket and blue jeans with white trainers when she fell on the road between the vehicle and the pavement.

Fanad Drive is residential area and local people who had come out of their homes witness the on-going drama, ran to her aid immediately.

As confusion reigned, there were shouts of: “A child has been shot. A child has been shot.” And at no small risk to themselves, PSNI officers also scrambled from their vehicle to give assistance.

But seconds later, a freelance reporter who standing nearby filming the proceedings on her mobile phone, was able to identify Lyra to the police .

The reporter also telephoned for an ambulance. It was on its way, when a policeman – realising Lyra was in dire need of immediate emergency help - took the decision to rush her to the hospital.

Lyra’s unconscious body was carefully lifted into the back of the police jeep by officers and local people.

And somehow, the vehicle managed to smash its way through a barricade of burning vehicles.

Around 15 minutes later, at Altnagelvin Hospital in the city’s Waterside, doctors declared investigative reporter Lyra McKee dead.

It took me some time to come to terms with the fact that instead of going to sleep in the early hours of Good Friday, I had in fact watched film footage a man murdering my young friend and fellow reporter.

Online Editors

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