Wednesday 18 July 2018

Child (11) hit gunman with brush during terrifying ordeal - family reveal daily struggle after murder attempt

A convicted rapist will be sentenced next month for attempting to murder a Wicklow man in front of his wife and children

Rapist Eoghan O’Connell
Rapist Eoghan O’Connell

Natasha Reid

A convicted rapist will be sentenced next month for attempting to murder a Wicklow man in front of his wife and children, failing only because the shotgun cartridges he used were damp.

Eoghan O’Connell tried to shoot the father of three twice as his victim was leaving the family home to go to work shortly after 7am. However, the shotgun misfired both times.

The man and his family have since sold their home and left Co Wicklow.

The 29-year-old of Dargle Heights in Bray was before the Central Criminal Court yesterday for his sentence hearing. O’Connell, also a father of three, had pleaded guilty to attempting to murder the man in his driveway at Old Court Park, Bray on April 8 2016.

Detective Sergeant Eamon O’Neill told Denis Vaughan Buckley SC, prosecuting, that the victim was confronted by a masked man with a gun as he left his wife and family to go to work that morning.

“He tried to shoot him from a distance of six feet but misfired,” he testified, explaining that a struggle ensued.

“He (the victim) managed to pull the balaclava from him and recognised him as Eoghan O’Connell,” he said. “He knew him all his life.”

The victim’s wife came out onto the driveway and also recognised him, he said. He added that the couple’s 11-year-old son had struck the attacker a number of times with a kitchen brush, which broke, in an effort to help his father.

O’Connell got away, but left behind his balaclava, a finger of a latex glove and the two shotgun cartridges. His DNA was found on the balaclava and the latex.

CCTV footage was also retrieved, which showed a man being dropped off nearby about 6.20am.

“He was seen for 40 minutes in situ, waiting for the injured party to leave the house,” he explained.

He said that a shotgun was recovered at Ballywaltrim in Bray about 10 days later but it took longer to locate the accused, despite numerous searches.

O’Connell managed to evade arrest on April 29, leading to an assault on one of the gardai, who was pursuing him on foot; he punched and kicked Sgt John O’Reilly as he jumped a fence.

D Sgt O’Neill said that he and other officers entered the house, which the accused shared with his parents, on May 2 2016.

“We went upstairs into the front bedroom and found him lying sideways between a bed and a wall,” he explained.

He said that, even after the evidence was put to him in interviews, O’Connell denied involvement.

Det Sgt O’Neill stood and showed Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy the 12-gauge, pump-action shotgun recovered as part of the investigation. He demonstrated how the weapon, measuring ‘three to four feet’, would have misfired and ejected the damp, rusty cartridges found at the scene.

He then listed some of O’Connell’s 65 previous convictions, including one for rape and two for assault causing harm.

Under cross examination by Michael O’Higgins SC, defending, he agreed that the origin of the attack was a dispute between two groups in a pub years earlier. Although his client had not been there, he was associated with one of the groups and his victim was ‘perceived to be’ in the other group.

The sergeant explained that, after ‘careful consideration, the couple decided not to come to court. However, he read out the detailed victim impact statement prepared by the victim’s wife.

She wrote that the family's normal life had dramatically changed since the attack, which was still fresh in their minds. Time had not made things any easier, she said.

“It has become a daily struggle to feel safe and secure,” she wrote. “Maintaining normality is gone and our lives now consist of looking over our shoulders and planning life through fear.”

She said their mental health had diminished and they now lived in a state of continuous anxiety.

She said it was incomprehensible that a person whom they had known could attempt to take the life of their children’s father.

“We both find it hard to sleep and when we manage to sleep, we often wake suddenly to check out our windows in case there is a gunman waiting to take our lives,” she wrote. “Simple things like the doorbell ringing creates panic.”

She said that they had installed cameras and a security system to keep a constant check on their home and safety.

They changed their cars so nobody would know what they drove. However, they still often feel as if someone is following them and constantly look in their rearview mirrors and pull in if they believe they’re being followed.

“We have sold our dream home and uprooted our family to a different county, while distancing ourselves from family and friends so that no-one knows where we are living and we cannot be found,” she wrote. “As parents, it is important to keep our children safe and it is not surprising how disempowered we feel carrying out our parental duties.”

She explained that, after the attack, their son would not stay in their home and moved in with another family member.

“He feared that the gunman, who kicked him in the chest making his escape, would come back to kill him,” she said.

They and their two younger daughters used to lock themselves into the one room for safety at that time.

“The worst (thing) was watching what the crime has done to our beautiful and innocent children,” she wrote. “Sleep does not come easy to any of us and our children have to be brought to bed.Our daughters now sleep with bedside lamps on in their rooms.”

She said that their son had to change schools as the event triggered intense anxiety. His younger sisters had also become extremely anxious children because of the crime they witnessed.

“They often have night terrors and wake up screaming in fear, sometimes becoming inconsolable,” she said. “They have also taken time off school as they fear leaving our side.”

She said they had instructed their children to turn off the location on their mobile phones, and to never upload pictures of themselves with school crests on their clothes for fear of identifying the school they attend. They have ‘999’ stored in their phones and have been told the circumstances in which they would dial it.

Playdates for the children dried up with their friends, as other parents did not want their children’s lives put in danger,” she explained. “That, as a parent, I understand.”

She added that they had not told their new neighbours the reason they had moved because they did not want their children prevented from making new friends.

She said that, with security such a big part of their lives, they no longer socialise and feel like prisoners in their own home.

They have become paranoid and her husband finds himself lying to colleagues about where he lives in order to protect his family.

“We are terrified that the people behind the attempted murder of my husband will find out where we live,” she said.

Mr Justice McCarthy will deliver sentence on March 16 and remanded the accused in custody until then.

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