Local hearts break as they wait for their 'princess'
"OUR princess is coming home." These were the emotional words of shattered father Mickey Harte when the family received the phone call from Mauritius confirming the return of his daughter's remains.
Michaela (27) and her husband, John McAreavey, had left home for their honeymoon less than two weeks ago.
But on Monday afternoon she was strangled to death in the couple's hotel room on the paradise island of Mauritius.
Last night her coffin, draped in purple, completed its long journey from the Indian Ocean island back to her home county of Tyrone.
It was taken by hearse from George Best Belfast City Airport to a funeral parlour in Portadown, Co Armagh, late yesterday afternoon.
There, both families grieved at an unscheduled viewing of the body of the beloved wife, daughter and sister.
The Harte and McAreavey families offered thanks for the support they had received, both from friends and the general public.
"We are all grateful for the prayers and support we have received from all parts of Ireland, the UK and across the world. This support has helped sustain us physically, emotionally and spiritually through these darkest days," they said in a joint statement.
"The distance from Mauritius has only increased our sense of isolation and separation from our beloved Michaela and her husband John.
"Now, as two heartbroken and devastated families, together we can share our grief and love for Michaela -- and provide support and comfort for John."
Lifelong family friend Father Gerard McAleer was in the Harte home when the phone call came to say that Michaela's body was coming home.
There was "an emotional outpouring" of relief from the family, he said, adding: "Mickey just said, 'Our princess is coming home'".
Michaela's funeral will be held on Monday at St Malachy's Church, Ballymacilroy -- the same church where she and John were married.
President Mary McAleese confirmed yesterday that she would be attending. Bishop McAreavey will officiate at the Requiem Mass and will be joined by Cardinal Sean Brady, All Ireland Primate.
Fr McAleer said it was impossible to articulate the grief of the two families, adding: "We will face it and we will celebrate Michaela's life on Monday. It will be later that it will be hard -- when there will be an empty chair and empty bed."
The plane touched down in Belfast at lunchtime yesterday. Her body was accompanied by the devastated groom, John McAreavey, his father Brendan, oldest brother and best man Brian, and Mark Harte, a brother of Michaela.
In a private corner of the airport in Belfast, the grieving party was met by the groom's uncle, the Bishop of Dromore John McAreavey, who had performed their wedding ceremony on December 30.
Michaela's other two brothers, Matthew and Michael, were also at the airport.
The cortege made its final journey westwards along the M1, past Dungannon where Michaela taught at St Patrick's Academy and on to Ballygawley, where representatives from the local GAA club, Errigal Ciaran, formed a guard of honour to meet them.
The Harte and McAreavey families appealed: "As Michaela returns home, we respectfully ask for full privacy to allow our two families, united in sorrow, to have the space and time to spend with a much loved wife, daughter and sister."