ARMED gardai opened fire on a criminal after he attempted to run them over in a stolen car just moments after he abandoned a kidnapped two-year-old boy on the side of the road.
The child escaped unharmed after the hijacker forced him from the car on the outskirts of Limerick city moments after armed gardai attempted to track him down.
Gardai were last night questioning the 32-year-old criminal following the high-speed drama through two counties.
The drama unfolded at Woodview Shopping Centre on the northside of Limerick city at 9.15am yesterday when a mother went into a shop and left her three children in the back seat of the parked Opel Zafira with the keys in the ignition.
The criminal, who was wearing a bullet-proof vest and armed with a screwdriver, sat into the driver's seat and threatened the 11-year-old girl and her two brothers, aged 10 and two, ordering them out of the vehicle.
The frightened 10-year-old boy jumped from the car while his sister attempted to rescue her youngest brother from the back seat.
However, the criminal assaulted her with a screwdriver and forced her out of the car.
The girl raced into the shop to alert her mother who ran out to see her car speeding off along the old Cratloe Road with her youngest child in the back.
Woodview Centra manager John McCoy said he dialled gardai after the girl raced into the shop to her mother.
"I heard her screaming: 'My child, my child -- he's after robbing my car.' She looked out the window and the car was taking off," Mr McCoy told the Irish Independent.
A local authority vehicle gave chase after the stolen car.
Leaving her two children in the care of a nearby pharmacy, the mother went in search of her son with a relative who quickly arrived at the scene.
The criminal abandoned the toddler along a rural road near the closed 'Country Club' before driving off in the direction of Meelick, Co Clare. The mother found the unharmed toddler standing on the road.
At Meelick village, a uniformed officer attempted to stop the stolen car but had to dive out of the way to avoid being struck as the car doubled towards Limerick.
Backed up by armed officers from the Regional Support Unit (RSU), gardai chased the car along Knockalisheen Road to the Delmeges on the outskirts of Moyross where it crashed into gates.
As armed officers approached the criminal on foot, they repeatedly issued warnings for him to get out of the car.
However, members of the RSU were forced to open fire on the vehicle as the driver attempted to run them down. Two shots were discharged as the vehicle drove into an area of open ground before it crashed into a tree.
The man attempted to flee on foot but was caught and arrested. He was being questioned at Henry Street garda station last night.
The mother, who asked not to be identified said the whole experience was heart-breaking.
The criminal was stabbed in the shoulder last month in Nicholas Street, Limerick, as part of a drugs-related dispute.
He was released from prison last April after serving a lengthy sentence for an arson attack as part of Limerick's criminal feud. He also has convictions for an arson attack on the car of an off-duty garda, assaulting a garda, possession of a firearm, and drugs offences.