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12-year-old girl fell in with group of older teenagers

SHE was about to embark on the next big adventure in life, starting secondary school and entering her teenage years.

Instead, the devastated family and friends of 12-year-old Dubliner Michaela Davis, whose body was discovered at the weekend, are left to grieve the loss of their beloved girl and ponder the future that could -- and should -- have been.

Last Thursday was a flurry of excitement as Michaela had her first introductory day at Luttrellstown Community College.

The following day, making the most of the last hours of freedom before the start of the school year proper today, she went into the city with friends.

Having returned home to the Village in Porterstown, west Dublin, Michaela told her parents, Brendan and Deirdre, at around midnight that she was popping out for a while and would be back shortly.

She then pedalled away on her bicycle. By 2am and with no sign of her return, her frantic family called gardai and reported her missing.

Despite an extensive search, her lifeless body was not discovered until shortly before 4pm on Saturday by an elderly man out walking along the Royal Canal just a few minutes from her home.

It is believed that she had been raped and strangled and her body dumped in thick undergrowth.

The path, while popular with walkers and joggers by day, is a lonely place after dark. Hemmed in by the canal on one side and a steep embankment leading to a railway line on the other and surrounded by dense brambles and trees, it is considered a no-go area at night time for many locals.

One young mother, who lives close to the Davis family, said the full horror of Michaela's brutal death had still to sink in.

"I just live across the road. Nothing like this ever happens around here.

"We'd walk down to the canal on a Sunday afternoon," she said, nodding to her two young children, one of whom attends Michaela's old primary school, St Mochta's.

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"During the day it's safe enough, but at night I wouldn't go. It's very dark and there's no lighting."

Gardai yesterday sought to reassure parents that Michaela's death was an isolated incident and that they were making good progress on their investigation.

"It's a very difficult time for her friends and family and the community," said Superintendent John Gilligan.

"There will be a sense of fear, a sense of tension. But from the point of view of the gardai, the community can be assured that everything is being done."

He added: "This is a huge emotive issue for the community and we have received an awful lot of co-operation, as you'd expect."

Michaela only made her Confirmation in May and finished primary school a month later. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old is understood to have been hanging around with older teenagers. Gardai have appealed to her friends to come forward with information they might have.

One school friend, who visited the scene at the canal bank yesterday, said he was shocked when he heard what had happened to Michaela. "She was sound, so funny," he said.

Local councillor, Fine Gael's Kieran Dennison, said the entire area was numbed.

"She had started secondary school just last Thursday," he said.

"I've spoken to the family and they're all just devastated.

"They've been living in the area a long time and are very involved in the local community.

"The entire area is trying to take it all in. It's devastating for all involved."

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