A YOUNG schoolboy who lost part of his hand when a pipe bomb exploded after he picked it up yesterday morning was saved from serious head injury by his bicycle helmet.
Gardai said that five-year-old PJ Duffy, of Sycamore Drive, Newtownmountkennedy, Co Wicklow, could have lost his life in the savage and indiscriminate attack.
The youngster was first out of the door of his home yesterday because he was so excited about going on a bicycle ride with his classmates.
He suffered serious injuries to both hands. It is understood he has injuries to seven fingers and could lose a number of them, while he also sustained blast injuries to his face and legs after picking up the explosive device he found on his doorstep.
Gardai revealed they had no evidence indicating why the boy's home might have been singled out by attackers.
They said one theory under investigation was that the bomber had mistakenly selected the wrong house.
Neighbours of the Duffy family said PJ was "obsessed" with bicycles and his mother, Kelly Anne (30), was preparing to take him to school early to meet his friends for an organised outdoor event when the device exploded.
He had put on his bicycle helmet before he left the house and it is believed this helped to save him from further injury. But he sustained serious facial wounds as well as injuries to seven fingers, while his legs were scorched after his trousers caught fire.
The little boy was brought by ambulance to Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Crumlin where he underwent emergency surgery for his injuries.
His condition was later described as "serious but stable" and he remained under sedation last night.
The device was left on the doorstep some time between 9pm on Tuesday and 8am yesterday and gardai last night appealed to anybody who spotted suspicious or unusual activity in the area to contact them at Bray station on (01) 666 5300.
Neighbours said they heard a loud "thud" and ran to the boy's aid.
"He was just hysterical," said a neighbour who was one of the first on the scene. "He had his school uniform, his bike helmet, and his high-visibility jacket on because of the trip they were going on.
"You could tell even then that he'd lost fingers on both hands. He had blood on his arm and his face but I couldn't really see if his face was injured because I couldn't see where the blood had come from."
She wrapped a towel around his arm and kept it elevated to try and prevent the blood flow. "We rang an ambulance but his grandfather put him into the car and brought him to the local GP," the neighbour said.
He was then transferred to hospital for the emergency operation.
Neighbours said Kelly Anne and her three children had been living in the estate for about a year. She lives there with her teenage daughter Casey, PJ, and a younger son, Oisin.
Neighbours of Patrick O'Brien, who is father to PJ and Oisin, said he had rushed to his son's bedside as soon as he heard what had happened.
The remains of the device were taken away for forensic examination by members of the Garda technical bureau.