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Sisters' last night was like any other

THEY kissed their father and said goodnight before going to bed.

Zoe (6) and Ella (2) Butler's last night alive was just like any other another weekday night in the Butler household.

Their mother Una wasn't long home from work, and would be up again at 7.30am the next day.

But when she left father John to make breakfast and take Zoe to school, Una had no idea she would never see her daughters again.

Sometime between then and around 9.35am, John killed both himself and the the two girls.

John died when he drove at high speed into an embankment, his car bursting into flames at a nearby crossroads. In the car, sitting beside him on the passenger seat, was a large drum filled with petrol.

The impact of the crash threw John into the rear of the car where he died as a result of inhalation of toxic fumes and burns.

The coroner's inquest in Cork yesterday heard the two girls both died at home from asphyxiation; Ella by smothering and Zoe by manual strangulation.

However, the harrowing events that took place before John left his house that morning still remain a mystery.


What is known, from eye-witness accounts from the fateful morning of November 16 last year, is that John drove his Toyota Yaris to a nearby garage where he pumped more than 15 litres of petrol into a five-gallon drum at around at 9.25am.

He then drove, "looking disturbed", to Garryvoe in east Cork before turning back and driving at high speed towards the family home at Ballybraher.

Witness Richard Guerin told the inquest that John sped through the crossroads with what appeared to be smoke surrounding him in the car.

He then drove at two signposts, both of which propelled him up on to the embankment before the car burst into flames.

As word spread quickly through the townland, concerned neighbours and relatives rushed to the Butler house only to find it locked up.

Four women -- Theresa O'Riordain, Brenda O'Riordain, Brid O'Shea and the children's babysitter, Anne O'Riordain -- found the two young girls dead in the living room after breaking in to the family home.

"My girls Zoe and Ella meant the world to me," heartbroken Una said in court yesterday.

"They were my life and I am very proud of them. They brought so much joy to our family.

"John, who suffered from depression on and off over a number of years was under the care of the Mental Health Service from November 2009.

"It would never have occurred to me that John was capable of acting out in the manner in which he did.

"My two beautiful daughters have had their lives cut short as a direct result of John's mental illness.

"John was a good person and he loved Zoe and Ella, but now I am only left with the memories of our beautiful daughters.

"There will always be pieces of the jigsaw missing."

Irish Independent