Tuesday 19 November 2019

Mother of girl (13) who died in Shankill bombing reveals bomber asked for help while she frantically searched for her daughter

Leanne Murray was 13 when the bomb exploded Photo: Murray Family
Leanne Murray was 13 when the bomb exploded Photo: Murray Family

Claire McNeilly

Every time Gina Murray hears Brown Eyed Girl she remembers her 13-year-old daughter Leanne.

The Van Morrison song conjures up for her an image of the "bubbly" teenager with dark eyes who was "very fussy" about her long brown hair.

But it also reminds heartbroken Gina of how much she lost on October 23, 1993.

Tuesday marks 25 years since the Shankill bombing, when a no-warning IRA device exploded on a busy Saturday afternoon - but the passage of time barely registers with Gina, who has "lived two separate lives".

"There's the life I had before Leanne was murdered and the one after her death," she said.

"That day is always at the front of my mind. It will stay with me for the rest of my life."

Gina (67) told how she had popped into a fruit and veg shop while Leanne had gone into Frizzell's fish shop to buy whelks just before the blast.

"I used to call her my brown-eyed girl because she had brown eyes like me," she recalled.

"After the explosion I couldn't find her anywhere. Panic and trauma set in; I spent so long searching. I didn't know what to do. I was yelling her name but it was no use. I didn't know it then, but my little daughter was dead."

The grandmother-of-four added: "Eventually two CID officers took us to the mortuary. It was terrible. She was in a black bag. I was crying and screaming."

She also recalled how Sean Kelly, one of the bombers, had asked her for help as she frantically searched for her daughter. She only found out exactly who he was "a few days later".

Describing the "very close" relationship she had with her daughter, Gina said she would have "been lost" without her son Gary (now 40) over the years.

Immediately after the bombing Gina and Gary, then 15, moved to England for nine months.

They returned, to the Kilcooley estate in Bangor, where they still live.

"Grief brought me back to Northern Ireland; I came back because I wanted to be near Roselawn Cemetery," she said.

It was not the family's first heartbreak. Gina's husband Thomas (47) died from a stroke eight months before the Shankill bomb. She also lost her five-year-old son Paul in a road accident, and a baby boy was stillborn.

Now a great-grandmother to six girls aged between six and three weeks old, she said it's "hard" to be surrounded by children, but it's "what you need".

"You need to see that smile on their faces, you need to hear them say: 'Nana, I love you'. It's the best thing in the world."

Still, it makes her think about what Leanne would have been like if she were here today.

"She was headstrong; I think she would've gone out and done what she wanted," she said.

"Like any 13-year-old, she had dreams. She was just back from a cross-community trip to Chicago and she wanted to return to America on work experience as a nursery school teacher."

That dream, and countless others, were cruelly taken from the Murray family on that dark October day when two IRA men, Thomas Begley and Kelly, carried a bomb into the fish shop.

The IRA said the intended targets were UDA leaders it thought were meeting in an office above the shop, but it was empty.

Instead nine people, including two children, lost their lives.

Shop owner John Frizzell, his daughter Sharon McBride, along with Leanne, Michael Morrison and his partner Evelyn Baird and her seven-year-old daughter Michelle, married couple George and Gillian Williamson, and Wilma McKee were killed.

Begley also died after the device exploded prematurely, while Kelly, who admitted he set out to kill loyalist paramilitaries, was freed from jail under the Good Friday Agreement early release scheme.

Gina said there's "not a chance" of her ever forgiving the bombers, adding: "A mother should never have to bury a child."

Her daughter-in-law Lynn (45) introduced her to Kilcooley Women's Centre, which she said has been a source of solace for victims like her, and that's where she met Patricia Downey, the accomplished director and writer.

The Belfast woman is the artistic director of the Spanner In The Works theatre company, which is putting on a play tonight called What If about Gina's life experiences up until the present day.

It is one of a series of events taking place around Belfast this weekend to commemorate 25 years since the Shankill bomb, but Gina is not without her reservations.

"I'm extremely nervous about the play because it's my life story," she said.

"But I hope it'll show people that you can get there. It takes a long time but you can do it... I'm honestly not sure I'll ever really get there but I'm trying the best I can."

Patricia, who was awarded the highly commended community impact award from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure in 2015, said the play is "about the people left behind".

"I have gone for the human side of it - it's her story, her pain and her son's pain," she said.

"There are two actors, somebody playing Gina and someone playing her son Gary."

The 50-minute performance is part of a project between Spanner In The Works and the women's centre. For workshop facilitator Patricia, the most poignant part of its production was meeting Gina. "She's such a genuine, humble lady and I'm so proud that this has given me an opportunity to work with her and put this out so the audience can see the pain that's left," she said.

"Every time I did a scene I acted it for her so that she was happy with it and I did the same with her son because I wanted them both to be happy with it. The play allows you to get to know Gina and her son before what happened."

Patricia said it took three months to complete the three different sets of scenes, and she's pleased with the results. She added: "It's heartbreaking. I'm just proud that I worked with her."

Gina admitted that she's also delighted with the end product.

"Patricia has done a good job," she said. "She even got me to write a poem about how I feel about losing Leanne - something I thought I could never do."

She added: "I'm doing this so that, hopefully, my daughter's memory will live on forever."

Belfast Telegraph

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