'She was clearly terrified' - Neighbour tells of mum-of-two Anne's screams for help before her murder
A neighbour has told how she was woken up by screams for help and a man shouting "I'm going to find you" just before a woman was murdered in south Belfast on Saturday.
Retired nurse Anne O'Neill (51) was discovered critically injured lying in the back garden of her parents' home on Ardmore Avenue in Finaghy at around 7am - just 15 minutes after neighbours heard her desperate pleas.
"I woke up and heard her screaming: 'Help me, help me'," a neighbour said.
"It was a really high-pitched voice, she was clearly terrified.
"Then I heard a male voice shouting: 'I'm going to find you'."
It is understood the victim, from Drenia, a cul-de-sac just off Brooke Drive, had been staying with her elderly parents George and Clare Burleigh.
It is believed she had two children - a son Declan and daughter Clare Ann, both aged in their 20s.
A resident described how her neighbour, who called the police, had been left deeply distressed by the horrific incident.
"She was talking to her (Anne) from the window and sought to reassure her that help was on the way, but by the time it arrived it was too late," a neighbour who lives to the back of the property said.
"She's been very agitated since this happened - she's very upset to think that she was the last person to hear Anne alive and was unable to do anything to help her."
Anne, who separated from her husband Kevin O'Neill a number of years ago, was discovered lifeless on the grass with head injuries.
Emergency crews tried desperately to resuscitate the mother-of-two in the back garden of the small bungalow but were unable to save her and she died at the scene.
"I have lived here for 32 years and I am shocked - nothing like this has ever happened here," the neighbour added.
"I feel awful for her parents because they are the nicest people to walk this Earth."
Last night a court granted police an additional 36 hours to question two men, aged 23 and 27, who were arrested in south Belfast on suspicion of murder within hours of the attack.
It was reported that forensic examinations were also conducted at a house on Malone Avenue.
Last night the victim's next-door neighbour of 22 years expressed her profound shock as she paid tribute to her friend.
"It was devastating to hear that Anne is dead, but it was even more so to find out that she has been murdered," she said. "It's a big shock, I can't believe it.
"Anne was a lovely woman but a very private person. She never did anyone any harm and she was always a good neighbour.
"Her kids were a credit to her - they lived for their mum and devoted their lives to caring for her."
The woman said Anne, who was left with severely impaired mobility after suffering a spinal injury during major surgery around 15 years ago, had battled a series of health issues ever since.
"Anne was partially paralysed. She would have gone to stay with her parents a lot," she added. "They were very close and her father George was really good to her.
"He is very highly thought of, a perfect gentleman. My heart goes out to him and Clare."
Ardmore Avenue resident Breta Hughes, who is in her 80s, said she had been left shocked and afraid following the murder.
"It's an awful shock because this is such a quiet area.
"It would frighten the life out of you," she said.
"This is a really friendly street, everyone helps each other out. We are all stunned.
"God love her, she didn't deserve that - nobody deserves that."
Ms Hughes, who has only just returned home from spending four weeks in hospital, said she has been left feeling vulnerable since the killing. To think something like that can happen here is just unbelievable," she added.
Alliance councillor Kate Nicholl said the "very harrowing" murder had left all residents deeply distressed.
Sinn Fein MLA Mairtin O Muilleoir said it had caused "real shock and distress in the area".
"This is an area which really sees no trouble, sees no incidents like this at all," he said.
"People are very upset and, of course, their heart goes out to the victim."
Mr O Muilleoir called on anyone who can help bring the perpetrators to justice to "work closely" with the PSNI.
Sinn Fein councillor Geraldine McAteer said a number of constituents had come to her on Saturday with concerns that Anne had lost her life in a burglary gone wrong.
But it is understood that police have ruled that out as a line of enquiry.
"This was a brutal murder and a tragic loss of life; it will have a severe impact on an entire family," Ms McAteer said.
"Police have two suspects and I do not believe they are looking for anyone else, but they are appealing for witnesses.
"I would encourage anyone who saw any suspicious behaviour in the area to contact the PSNI."
Police have appealed for anyone who has CCTV installed at their homes in the Ardmore Avenue and Ardmore Park areas to contact them at Musgrave PSNI station.