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A deadly darkness: Keane Mulready-Woods' last call home and the violent end of a boy lost to deadly grip of brutal gangs

Keane Mulready-Woods was a child of a lost generation, ensnared in a web of serious crime, writes Maeve Sheehan


LOST BOY: Keane Mulready-Woods

LOST BOY: Keane Mulready-Woods

LOST BOY: Keane Mulready-Woods

Keane Mulready-Woods spoke to his mother for the last time soon after 6pm last Sunday. He rang to say he would be home late and asked her to leave money on the mantelpiece to pay the taxi fare. He was on a curfew which meant he had to be home before dark and up to that point, had been observing it, according to those who know the family.

He never did get that taxi home. One of the last sightings of him was by Dominic's Bridge in Drogheda town centre at around 6pm, probably a short time before he made the phone call to his mother. He was noticeable in his head-to-toe designer gear: a red Canada Goose jacket that cost at least €400, his beloved Gucci baseball cap with serpent wrapped around its peak that sells for €250 new, a Hugo Boss tracksuit and the hallmark for any teenager in the hood: expensive runners. His were black Hugo Boss with brown soles.

His family were worried. His sister, Courtney, posted a message on Facebook the following afternoon. "Has anyone seen my brother he's only 17 and he's missing since yesterday evening and no one heard from him or can get through to him and anyone he's usually with is texting me looking for him."

At 8pm that evening, Keane's mother went to the garda station in Drogheda, anxious and distressed, to report that her son was missing. Her worst fears were soon realised.

Two hours later and 47 kilometres down the M1, a black sports bag was thrown from a speeding car on to a footpath in the Moatview housing estate in Coolock, north Dublin. Curious children discovered the bloodied limbs of a human body stuffed inside.

Two days later, a severed head was found in a stolen Volvo V40, abandoned and set alight in a quiet laneway in Dublin's north inner-city, close to Croke Park.

Last Friday, came the inevitable: that DNA tests had confirmed the remains found in the burnt-out car and in the hold-all sports bag were those of Keane Mulready-Woods, a boy trying to find his way in life who had taken the wrong path. Parts of his remains are still missing.

He was not old enough to buy cigarettes or alcohol, too young to be served in pubs or to vote.

In the way other boys his age immersed themselves in rugby culture or the GAA, according to one local worker in the community, Keane's head was turned by the flashy criminals in designer gear who roared around the council housing estates on the outskirts of the town, in BMWs and Audis.

He was born in Drogheda in 2002, the son the Mulready and Woods families, both liked locally. He would have turned 18 on February 2.


Keane Mulready-Woods (17)

Keane Mulready-Woods (17)

He was raised in a local authority housing estate in what is officially a disadvantaged economic area of Drogheda. He was living with his mother and his sister at the time of his death.

Images from his childhood flooded on to Facebook in recent days, in photographs posted by his sister and by their friends. One shows a smiling girl and shyer younger brother, another a freckled toddler sleeping beside his sister in an oversized bed. An endearing video taken when he was maybe 10 or 11, performing some sort of rap dance on the garden path to delighted laughter.

At what moment did this boy become part of what the local chief superintendent, Christy Mangan, called the "lost generation" of children, the boys and also girls, who see gangs as their only pathway to money, clothes and a social standing among their peers?

Within a few years of dancing for delighted adults in his front garden, Keane was a young teenager who dropped out of school at St Oliver's Community College. Huge efforts were made to keep him engaged, according to a local Garda source.

One local man in his 20s who knew Keane, even though he was older than him, said at one point he got a job in the kitchen of the school, in an effort to keep him engaged and attending a learning environment. But that did not last.

He didn't seem too interested in sports either, except for motocross and his scrambler bike. He played soccer as a young boy but that fell away too as he got older.

Des McDonald, who is chairman of St Nicholas GAA club in the Holy Family parish where Keane lived, said Keane didn't play Gaelic football, although some of his friends used to. They stopped playing too.

"I feel that we have lost a whole generation," he said. "There would have been lads in the area Keane hung around with… We would have lost those boys over the last three years. We would always try to keep them involved as long as we could."

Since Keane's murder, he has wondered how those boys are coping. With this in mind, officials at St Nicholas have contacted other sports clubs in the parish in recent days, with a view to redoubling their efforts to reach those boys who are vulnerable to the grooming of drug dealers.

"As a club, we probably need to get back out there on to the streets and tie a lot more kids into - regardless of what it is whether its soccer or GAA, if you can get them in off the streets for an hour or two, it's a start, it's a help."

Keane was 14 when he first came to the notice of youth workers and gardai. His first offence was an accusation that he assaulted another boy, according to a Garda source.

Within a year gardai suspected that the main drug-dealing gang in the town, the Maguire faction, had young wiry Keane firmly in their grip.

He got into trouble with growing frequency, and his rap sheet multiplied. The offences he was accused of got more serious over time. Public order offences gave way to trespassing on private property. When he was 15 - in 2017 - gardai received a complaint that he had allegedly pointed a gun at the manager of a shop in Drogheda, an incident captured on CCTV.

When the Drogheda feud kicked off the following year, Keane was an impressionable 16-year-old, exploited to the hilt by the criminals who goaded him on.

The wave of violence was triggered by the shooting of Owen Maguire, a criminal leading one faction, unleashing a murderous feud on the streets of Drogheda. At one point the scale of attacks - tit-for-tat petrol bombings, arson attacks and shootings - caused effective lockdown in the provincial town of no more than 41,000 people, the community caught in the crossfire. Both sides called in drug debts, threatening to torch the homes or harm the families to secure payment.

That year - 2018 - he was accused of criminal damage and threatening to cause serious harm to a local family.

Fr Phil Gaffney, the parish priest in the Holy Family parish, said last week that ruthless criminals are grooming young teenagers and exploiting them for their own benefit.

Keane was one such teenager.

"He had his own troubles. He was naive enough to fall in with the wrong people, and I suppose not knowing or anticipating the dire consequences of his lifestyle. But no human being should have their life ended in a way like that," he told the Sunday Independent.

"As his mother said, she did her best for him. She was trying to get him away from some of those people involved in crime. She was doing her best to try to keep him away from them. But I suppose he did fall for the rewards of this. Obviously, young ruthless criminals, they groom young people and exploit them, because they are interested in expanding their own personal wealth or patch."

In a socially disadvantaged area, the culture of gangland can be hard to resist. "They are drawn into it with promises of gifts and money. It is not easy for a young lad to get out of that culture," he said.

According to one informed source, Keane was a frequent client of the Garda's juvenile diversion programme. The programme is designed to prevent young offenders from ending up in court charged with criminal offences. Instead they are asked to admit their wrong-doing and find other ways to make amends.

Keane was offered many chances. His chances ran out last year when he was prosecuted on charges of intimidation.

The victim was a mother who told gardai that Keane had threatened and terrorised her into paying her child's drug debt.

Keane was convicted on December 17. Days before the court hearing, gardai suspected him of being involved in a petrol bomb attack on a car in a local housing estate.

Keane's sentence was deferred until later this year and he was released on licence. His bail conditions included a curfew and staying at his mother's home.

In recent weeks, he had been observed by gardai in Finglas, in north Dublin, staying with an associate there, whether to lie low or visit friends, who knows?

Perhaps he knew he was in trouble.

On January 5, gardai called to his home in Beechwood and served him with a Garda Information Message (GIM), formal notification that his life was in danger.

Those who knew the family believed that Keane was turning his life around. He had been observing the curfew and coming home at night.

When he didn't return last Sunday night, his mother and sister realised quickly that there was "something amiss".

Gardai believe that Keane was abducted shortly after 6pm and brought to a house in Rathmullan Park, where he was murdered. According to sources, there was evidence that Keane put up a desperate fight. Despite an attempt to deep clean the property, blood was found in several locations in the property. After he was murdered, his body was dismembered. Last week, detectives found the machetes and knives they believe were used to kill him in a shed in a laneway behind the property.

Even as his dismembered body was in transit that night with the criminals who killed him, word reached gardai that the severed head of the teenager was to be delivered to a mobster affiliated with the Maguire faction, the gang Keane was perceived to be running with. His killers had planned to dump the remains of Keane Mulready-Woods outside the home of another of their enemies, but disturbed, dumped them in a panic at the Moatview housing estate.

"It was a show of how powerful we are, punishment for changing from one side to the other, and a warning to their own and to the others: you do not mess with me," said a source close to the investigation.

Why was Keane targeted for murder?

One theory is that he was playing both sides and was killed as a warning from one side to the other. He had been observed by gardai in company with a man in his mid-20s, a driver for some of the anti-Maguire faction.

Gardai believe that a Coolock gangster, aligned to the so-called anti-Maguire faction and suspected of a string of murders, was intent on avenging the murder of his associate.

But gardai also suspect there may be another reason why the Coolock gangster may have targeted Keane.

When gardai examined the bag of severed limbs, they found a flip-flop tucked into the holdall.

The flip-flop was significant. The Coolock mobster was recently confronted on the street, with a gym bag over his shoulder. One of his assailants grabbed the mobster's gym bag and a second person filmed the incident.

The video was later mockingly circulated on social media, along with a pair of flip-flops retrieved from his gym bag. The clip prompted ridicule. Gardai are investigating whether Keane was the person who filmed the mobster's takedown, the flip-flops left with the boy's mutilated body as a warning.

That a boy should lose his life for insulting the vanity of a thug may seem incredible. Yet the vicious feud in Limerick, which cost 20 lives, started with a playground row between the daughters of two criminals who then took on their children's fight.

That Keane's murder is now being played out on social media, with gangs sharing videos online, purporting to be of Keane's murder, and even sent to Keane's family, is equally horrific, compounding the grief and horror for his family, according to Fr Gaffney.

The images are fake, according to gardai. One source said they were culled from Mexican gangland culture, where the public display of mutilated victims is designed to spread fear and silence in communities, inspiring the term narco terrorism.

In Drogheda Garda Station last Friday evening, bags of evidence full of household items taken from the house at Rathmullan Park, the suspected site of Keane's murder, piled up.

Chief Superintendent Christy Mangan, who has policed the Drogheda feud for the past two years, had just returned from meetings with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, and with local community groups. He refused to speak in detail about Keane Mulready-Woods, out of respect for the boy's family and because the case is under active investigation.

"He is a child of a lost generation. It is terribly sad. One of our first victims of 2020 is a child lost to drug dealers. Cocaine is a cultural and social problem. Not all users are going to get in trouble with the guards. The majority of users are able to go down to a housing estate, buy cocaine and then snort it in their social venues, they are professionals, sports people who are never going to come into contact with the guards," he said.

"They are the people that are propping up the drug dealers and the likes of the people who killed Keane. They are the people that have contributed in a huge way to this social problem. And they think it's cool. You are contributing to the machine that's killing people.

"We have had huge health campaigns that have stopped people from smoking and it's worked. It has saved thousands of lives. We have had huge campaigns to stop drink-driving and it's worked. It has saved hundreds of lives. We need a campaign now to stop people from taking cocaine, in dealing in cocaine and contributing to deaths like Keane's.

"I think we have to attach responsibility to the people involved in consuming cocaine. Some will ignore it. But there will be a percentage of people who will say I am that person who bought that drug off Mr X who may have been involved in the death of Keane."

Fr Gaffney has appealed to people in the parish to surmount the fear and nervousness and support the police if they have any information about the crime. He will lead a holy hour of prayer for peace in the parish this afternoon between 3pm and 4pm. "It is for people to come together to say a prayer and light a candle, to pray for all of Keane's family and pray that the scourge of drug abuse and crime will be eliminated in some way from our community," he said.

Mayor Of Drogheda, Paul Bell, comments on the ongoing feud in the area.

Sunday Independent

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