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Tuesday 12 December 2017

‘I feel my son has been murdered again’ – victim’s mother heartbroken as killer granted temporary release

Christopher O'Callaghan (21) of O'Malley Park, Southill, Limerick. Photo: Ronan Quinlan /Collins
Christopher O'Callaghan (21) of O'Malley Park, Southill, Limerick. Photo: Ronan Quinlan /Collins

Meadhbh McGrath

The heartbroken mother of a young man murdered in an unprovoked attack in 1990 has described the temporary release of his killer as “a slap in the face”.

Mary Fitzpatrick, from Southill, Co Limerick, was devastated to learn Christopher O’Callaghan, who was handed a life sentence for killing her son in 2002, would be allowed to attend a college course in Sligo.

“I feel I’ve gone back to 17 years and I’ve been plunged back into the terrible darkness that came the moment my son was brutally murdered,” Ms Fitzpatrick told RTE Radio One’s Liveline.

Michael (19) was stabbed eight times in an unprovoked attack outside the Olympic Arms pub on Roxborough Road on June 25, 1999.

O’Callaghan, who was 18 at the time, was convicted three years later and was serving his sentence at Castlerea Jail, Roscommon, until this week.

Now 35, he was moved to Harristown House open prison, and has been granted permission to begin a 16-week course at Sligo IT during the day, before returning to the prison each night.

Ms Fitzpatrick said she had been informed in January of an impending release later that year, and had written a letter to the justice minister Frances Fitzgerald to object.

She said she had not heard any response, until last Friday, when she received a call from the Irish Prison Services to inform her that O’Callaghan would be beginning the course the following week.

“He’s basically a free man. In my mind, he’s actually free now,” she said.

“We’re absolutely devastated, the pain of losing my son the way I did for nothing.”

Ms Fitzpatrick has three children, Rachel, David and Laura, who were aged three, seven and 10 respectively at the time of the murder.

Michael had been studying for his Leaving Cert, and working in garages cleaning buses before school each day.

She described her eldest son as a “lovely, quiet, unassuming young boy” who acted as a “mentor” to his younger siblings.

Ms Fitzpatrick recalled the night of her son’s brutal murder with precise detail.

Michael had been watching Braveheart in his room when a friend invited him to the pub across the road from their home for a drink.

“I said, will you mind yourself? And he said, ‘Sure relax woman, what do I ever do to anybody?’ But it’s not you I worry about, it’s who you’re going to meet,” she said, describing their last conversation.

At the Olympic Arms, Michael ran into O’Callaghan, whom his mother said he knew from school but was not friends with.

At 12.30am, Ms Fitzpatrick was told something had happened to her son, and ran immediately to be by his side.

“It was horrific, I’ll never forget it. His eyes were open, and were moving. I wanted to run away, because I said, this couldn’t be my son.

“I took hold of his hand and kept talking to him, saying ‘Mikey, it’s me, don’t leave me,’ and his eyes would move.

“As sad as it was, I get comfort now when I’m alone that he saw me last, it wasn’t the person who plunged the knife into him,” she said.

Although her son was unable to speak, she added: “Our eyes met, and it was goodbye.”

Now that his killer has been temporarily released, Ms Fitzpatrick said: “I feel my son has been murdered again this week.”

She continued: “My son will be 17 years dead this June. I should have a 38 year old son now, I should have grandchildren, he should be living a life. We lost all that.

“And it’s not only me, my children who loved him and idolised him. I carry around that pain and I’ve watched my children grow up carrying that pain.

“I feel I’ve gotten a slap in the face,” she said.

Since their son’s death, Ms Fitzpatrick and her husband have separated, and she has suffered with the effects of post-traumatic stress.

“I put on a very brave face, but I’m only half-alive. I do my duties as a mother and in my professional career, but I go home every day after work and I’m alone.

“Then your mind becomes your enemy, because that image of Mikey lying on the ground is back there again,” she said.

At her lowest point, six months after Michael was killed, Ms Fitzpatrick contemplated suicide.

“I took out sleeping tablets and I went to kiss my three children goodbye.

“I bent down to kiss the youngest one goodbye, and when I saw her little face I remembered watching her for six months standing at the window waiting for her brother to come back.

“It was heartbreaking. I thought, I can’t leave them to deal with this, so I carried on.”

She is now taking anti-anxiety medication, but struggles with high blood pressure and severe panic attacks.

On the show, host Damien O’Reilly read a statement from the Department of Justice regarding Ms Fitzpatrick’s objection.

“The department is not in a position to comment on individual cases. However, we can confirm the correspondence has been received and a reply will issue on the matter in due course.”

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