THE evening of January 25, 2013, started like any other normal work night for Adrian Donohoe.
He said goodbye to his wife and their two children and set out from the family home in Bellurgan for Dundalk garda station, where he was stationed having been a garda for 17 years.
He then made the short trip into town and shortly after 8pm he took up the regular Friday night duty of providing an armed escort for the credit union takings being collected across the Cooley Peninsula.
Previous robberies meant there was good reason for armed detectives to shadow the money until it was safely deposited in Dundalk. Criminals saw the mostly volunteer staff carrying large quantities of cash as soft targets.
Adrian’s partner that night was Det Gar Joe Ryan, who at the time was a 20-year veteran of the force and had been attached to the local crime unit since 1995.
The two detectives set off in their unmarked garda patrol car, a Toyota Avensis, with the call sign Papa Bravo 16.
Their first stop was at the Ballymascanlon service station where Adrian bought a packet of peanuts and a bottle of water as they fuelled up for the journey ahead.
Torrential rain that evening and road closures along the peninsula delayed the armed escort getting to Omeath credit union on time and they called ahead to notify their colleagues.
In the sub-district station at Omeath, gardai Alan Lynch and Tony Golden, who tragically lost his life in a shooting two years later, decided to commence the escort.
They followed the credit union staff on the regular route from Omeath to Carlingford and then on to Cooley, briefly stopping at each branch to collect that week's cash takings.
At the latter branch, Adrian Donohoe and Joe Ryan arrived to take over from their unarmed colleagues, and the four men briefly chatted about the weather and slight damage to the front of the detectives' vehicle, before each went their separate ways.
As the men were exchanging pleasantries, a gang of four men were getting in place at Lordship credit union. The men, all dressed in black and wearing balaclavas, were dropped off by a dark coloured Volkswagen Passat at the end of laneway close to the credit union at 20.49pm. The men would spend the next 40 minutes using the cover of darkness to scout the location where their heist was planned to take place.
Back in Cooley, the convoy made up of the unmarked garda car and a black Nissan Qashqai being driven by credit union worker Mary Hanlon left the branch at 9.13pm and headed towards Lordship.
Neither Joe Ryan nor Mary Hanlon recalled noticing anything suspicious along the short drive which took just over 10 minutes. The two vehicles arrived at Lordship at 9.25pm and drove into the car park. Adrian Donohoe would have known the area well from previous escorts and because his two young children attended the national school directly across the road.
As was protocol since a previous armed robbery at the branch 17 months earlier, the staff inside Lordship waited until the armed escort arrived before exiting the building.
Pat Bellew and Bernadette McShane, two volunteers on duty that night, received the signal that the escort was outside and exited the building, turning off the lights in the car park on their way out.
Mr Bellew walked over to his champagne-coloured Mazda carrying that night's takings which totalled approximately €7,000 in cash along with cheques. He gave a salute in the direction of the detectives indicating it was him that would be joining their escort on that occasion.
Mr Bellew got into his car, which was parked facing the rear wall, and began reversing out of the parking space. The other cars started their engines and got ready to leave for the convoy’s final destination that night, AIB in Dundalk, where the takings from the four credit unions were to be deposited.
They never made that journey.
As the black Nissan Qashqai was preparing to lead the convoy out of the car park a dark-coloured Volkswagen Passat drove at speed from the Carlingford direction and blocked the entrance with near-perfect timing.
Mary Hanlon would recall seeing what she believed to be a woman with blonde hair and wearing a cap behind the wheel.
She initially thought nothing of it, assuming it was a person pulling in to take a phone call, and she continued a mobile conversation with her friend using the car's handset.
But at that exact moment four young, athletic men scaled the four-foot, five-inch-high rear wall of the credit union. The shadowy figures were captured on the credit union’s surveillance footage as they sprinted past the car headlights.
Within seconds Adrian Donohoe would be dead
The first two men, the only raiders carrying firearms, made their way directly to the unmarked garda car.
By this stage Adrian Donohoe had stepped out of the Avensis to assess what was blocking the entrance, unaware of the danger approaching out of his line of sight. Within seconds he would be dead.
One of the masked raiders, carrying a long-barrelled shotgun, raised the firearm and pointed it across the roof of the car directly at the detective's head and, without warning, pulled the trigger.
Det Gda Donohoe didn't even have time to draw his Sig Sauer P226 semi-automatic pistol which was still safely clipped into his black holster at his waist.
CCTV footage captured the moment the masked killer recoiled back several feet and almost fell to the ground after he discharged the fatal shot.
Ballistics tests would later determine that Adrian Donohoe was shot from a distance of no more than seven feet, effectively at point-blank range, and that he died from a penetrating shotgun wound to the right side of his head.
The two gunmen briefly retreated from the vehicle, before running back over to the driver’s side and training their weapons on Joe Ryan who was pinned in to his seat.
I was in fear for my life - Det Gda Joe Ryan
At this stage the detective believed the shot that had been fired was a warning shot, oblivious to the fact his colleague was lying fatally wounded across from him.
Joe Ryan would later tell the trial that the man armed with the shotgun then threatened him and warned him: “I'm going to f***ing kill you, I'm going to shoot you. Give us the money.”
“I was in fear for my life,” Det Gda Ryan recalled at the Central Criminal Court and said that he pleaded with the masked gunman: “Don’t shoot. I've no money.”
The second armed raider, holding a handgun, was also pointing his weapon at him. Joe Ryan said that at the time he thought he’d prefer to be shot with the 9mm firearm rather than the shotgun because he would have a “better chance of survival”.
As the two armed raiders neutralised any potential threat the detectives posed, their accomplices ran towards two cars being driven by credit union volunteers.
One of them was Bernadette McShane, an employee of some 25 years, who was reversing her red Nissan Micra parked beside the credit union door when the robbery unfolded.
She first heard two loud bangs and, turning to her right, saw Adrian Donohoe falling to the ground.
At first Ms McShane thought it was a ducking reaction to the bangs, but she realised the seriousness of the situation when Adrian Donohoe wasn't moving.
During the trial she broke down in tears describing a masked man, with only his eyes visible, running towards her.
In that moment, she would tell the jury, Bernadette McShane thought the shadowy figure was coming to kill her because she had “seen too much”.
He smashed her car window and shouted at the volunteer “give me the money, give me the f***ing money”.
Ms McShane pleaded with the masked assailant: “I haven't got any, somebody else has it.”
She was ordered to “drop the glove compartment”, which she did, but there was nothing inside. He then demanded her handbag which Bernadette McShane handed over.
During the few seconds the masked robber was at her car, Ms McShane noticed an object in his hand which she described as a walkie-talkie.
She also heard a voice, presumably from the transceiver, shout ‘are you right there, lads?’. When this call went out, she said, the assailants left immediately and in unison.
A fourth robber had focused his attention on the Mazda being driven by Pat Bellew which contained the credit union takings from Lordship that night.
The man smashed the driver-side window with a mallet and later made his way around to the passenger side.
He took the bag containing the €7,000 in cash but, unlike his accomplices, didn't speak a word.
Grainy dash-cam footage from Mr Bellew's car recorded parts of the robbery. Audio from the recording also picked up the screams, threats and sheer terror as the robbery unfolded.
The only vehicle that the gang didn't target was the one containing the largest sum of money.
The raid lasted all of 58 seconds and netted the gang €7,000
Mary Hanlon's Nissan Qashqai held over €27,000 in cash and €90,000 in cheques but was overlooked by the raiders as they ran past it to the waiting getaway car. The dark-coloured Volkswagen Passat sped away in the direction of Dundalk, driving through the Ballymacscanlon roundabout and making its way along Whitemills Road and across the Border near Forkhill.
The Volkswagen passed by Cortamlet primary school, Newry, in convoy with another saloon car at 10.04pm and was later found burnt-out backed against a fence on Cumsons Road, an isolated laneway near Newtonhamilton.
The slick raid lasted all of 58 seconds and netted the gang €7,000. However in their wake they also left a wife without her husband, and two young children without their father. Adrian Donohoe would be formally pronounced dead over an hour later.
As the gang fled the scene Joe Ryan ran from his car and drew his weapon. At his stage he believed that there was no immediate threat to life and decided not to discharge his firearm.
I knew at that stage [Adrian] was dead, but I went for a pulse anyway - Joe Ryan
After going around to the passenger side of his patrol car he saw his colleague lying on the ground with a pool of blood forming around his head. “I knew at that stage he was dead, but I went for a pulse anyway,” he would later tell the trial, adding that there was “nothing that could be done for him”.
Using his Garda radio, he called out for urgent assistance as he relayed the details of what had just unfolded in front of him to emergency services.
Colleagues of the detective later recalled the panic in his voice coming through to their patrol car radios.
Gda Alan Lynch, who had been on the escort earlier, said he knew “something terrible had happened” by the sound of Det Gda Ryan's voice, and that “you could tell from his voice he was highly distressed”.
Emergency services including gardai and advanced paramedics rushed to the scene and the gravity of the situation became immediately apparent.
Some of those first on the scene had worked with Adrian Donohoe for many years.
His close colleague and personal friend Det Sgt Darren Kirwan, now an Inspector, was off-duty when he was informed of the murder at 9.45pm that night.
Having known both Adrian and his wife Caroline since their days in the Garda Training College Templemore, Insp Kirwan went straight to the Donohoe family home. He spoke with Ms Donohoe who indicated that she wanted to visit the scene where her husband had been killed, arriving at 11pm where she identified him.
Insp Kirwan would do so formally at the post-mortem the following day. The autopsy, performed by then-Deputy State Pathologist Dr Khalid Jaber, concluded that Adrian Donohoe died as a result of a shotgun wound to the head.
Within hours of the murder gardai had drawn up a shortlist of potential suspects from the area.
The list was compiled by now-retired Detective Inspector Pat Marry and jotted down on the piece of paper were 12 people with the capability and wherewithal to carry out a robbery with this precision, and who would also have no hesitation in using loaded firearms.
The sixth name on that list would later lead gardai on an international manhunt over the next five years. That name was Aaron Brady.
Aaron Brady was found guilty of the capital murder of Adrian Donohoe on August 12th 2020.