Son ran into school screaming after gunman killed dad at school gates
A traumatised boy ran back into school screaming immediately after his father was shot in front of hundreds of other pupils in west Belfast yesterday.
Jim Donegan had been waiting in his car outside the gates of St Mary's Grammar School on the Glen Road when a lone gunman approached his vehicle and opened fire shortly after 3pm.
The victim, known as JD and aged in his 40s, was killed after being shot multiple times.
His young son who was at the scene is believed to be around 13 years old.
Witnesses described seeing him run back into the school immediately after hearing multiple gunshots ring out.
"He'd only just left and then there were about six bangs," one eyewitness said.
"The next thing he ran back up the lane screaming - he was terrified."
It is understood the perpetrator came from the direction of the Caffrey estate which is where he returned after carrying out the shooting in front of children from at least three nearby schools.
Police have appealed for a man in his 40s wearing a high-visibility vest with the word 'security' written on the back, or anyone who saw him, to contact them.
One woman who passed the scene within moments of the shooting described the frantic efforts of teachers to shield children from the horrific sight by placing coats over the windscreen of the car.
"But the kids would have seen everything through the driver's window which was completely shattered," she said.
"There are two bus stops right beside where it happened and large numbers of children were gathered there at the time."
It is understood that at least six buses pick children up at the location of the shooting. It is also a drop-off point for children coming from schools further away.
However, pupils from the Christian Brothers' School directly opposite St Mary's were spared from seeing the scene. Vice principal Damien Coyle said "potentially hundreds" of other schoolchildren were not as fortunate.
"It was a difficult task, but we managed to get our kids down the road away from this," he said.
Principal Bronagh Farrimond said staff implemented the school's health and safety strategy immediately and notified parents by text message. "Most of our pupils heard the noise [of gunshots] but thank God none of them saw it," she added.
The school building remained open to assist pupils and parents caught up in the terrifying incident before it was forced to close at around 5pm when a police cordon was extended.
Many pupils from St Teresa's Primary School were making their way towards the Glen Road at the time of the shooting.
Staff and volunteers from St Teresa's Youth Centre rushed to the scene to bring stranded and terrified children away from the chaos.
Senior youth worker Michelle Donnelly helped comfort dozens of traumatised children who witnessed the "carnage" and were left stranded as a result.
"Many of them were just distraught and their parents couldn't get near the school," she said.
"We offered them a safe space and acted as a collection point. One child who has autism just couldn't cope at all - they literally couldn't speak because they were so upset."
Fr Brendan Hickland from St Teresa's parish said the "appalling" murder has shocked the entire community.
St Mary's said it will be closed today.
"The thoughts and prayers of the principal and all the staff are with our pupil and his family at this very sad time," the school's statement said.
"Ensuring that all pupils got home safely was our absolute focus following this tragic incident.
"The school will be closed on Wednesday, December 5 due to the ongoing investigation.
"The school will be providing pupils with counselling and support services."
Keith McCaughery from Holy Trinity Youth Centre expressed concern over the increasing number of gangs operating in west Belfast.
He said the "ripple effect" of the murder could have a devastating impact on hundreds of local children, adding: "Where is their peace dividend?"
Sinn Fein MP Paul Maskey condemned the "disgraceful and horrific attack".
Speaking at the scene last night, the west Belfast politician said parents of "very young" children who saw the shooting have been left disgusted.
"It is very, very wrong and an indictment of our society," he said.
"We thought these days were long gone and whoever did this should be absolutely ashamed of themselves."
West Belfast MLA Gerry Carroll also condemned the attack and said it is extremely worrying that somebody "sees fit to pull a gun and open fire in the middle of the day".
Alliance Party deputy leader Dr Stephen Farry condemned the "disgusting and depraved" killing which was "made all the more heinous" because of where it happened.
SDLP councillor Tim Attwood also attended the "sickening" scene and said such "madness" belongs in the past.
And Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie said "nobody has the right" to "act as judge, jury and executioner" on our streets.
Last night police refused to rule out the possibility that dissident republicans were responsible.
Chief Superintendent Jonathan Roberts also warned that a child could have been killed or injured as a result of the "terrible" act for which there can be "no justification".