A criminal investigation is under way into the circumstances surrounding the deaths of two children during a car fire in Co Westmeath, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has confirmed.
Speaking in Galway today, Mr Harris said the deaths of Mikey (2) and Thelma (5) Dennany, who died in the car fire last Friday, are being treated as suspicious.
This evening gardaí made an appeal for help from members of the public who were in the area of Lacken, Multyfarnham, between 2pm and 4pm last Friday, September 9, and who have any video footage, including dashcam or other footage, to make it available to them.
The incident room at Mullingar garda station can be contacted on 044 9384000, or people can contact the Garda Confidential Line 1800 666 111 or any garda station.
Gardaí added that a family liaison officer is continuing to keep the family updated.
The children’s mother Lynn Egar, who was pulled from the car by a passer-by, remains in hospital with what is believed to be non-life-threatening injuries.
Gardaí are continuing to investigate all the circumstances surrounding the fire and have finished a forensic search at the scene of the blaze and also at the remote farmhouse 12km away outside the town of Rathowen where the family lived.
It is understood that the bodies of the children have been released back to their family.
A candlelight vigil took place in Multyfarnham last night attended by hundreds of people who turned out to remember the little brother and sister.
The gathering met at the Children of Lir Montessori and Preschool where Mikey had just begun attending this month, before walking to St Cremin’s National School where Thelma was a senior infants pupil.
The preschool paid tribute to the children today.
In a statement, staff and children at the Children of Lir pre-school expressed their “sincere sympathy to the family at the tragic loss of Thelma and Michael”.
It added: “Thelma had attended our ECCE scheme and she was a beautiful, happy and fun-loving little girl who will be sadly missed by us all. We will miss her dearly.”
Meanwhile, the primary school where Thelma was attending has set up a remembrance table at its door today in honour of the innocent victims of the fire.
A candlelit vigil took place in Multyfarnham last night, attended by hundreds of people who turned out to remember the little brother and sister.
The gathering met at the Children of Lir Montessori and Pre-school where Mikey had just begun attending this month, before walking to St Cremin’s National School where Thelma was a senior infants pupil.
At the school this morning, the principal and staff set up a table of remembrance with candles surrounding photographs of Mikey and Thelma. Well-wishers left messages of sympathy along with teddy bears and other tributes to the children.
In a statement, principal Karl Dermody said they were devastated to learn of the sudden death of a beloved member of its school community.
“Thelma will be remembered by classmates and teachers as a warm, happy, and vibrant member of St Cremin’s National School,” Mr Dermody said.
“We offer our sincere condolences to friends and family members as they come to terms with this tragic loss of life.
“As a school, our priority will be to take every step to ensure that the needs of our pupils and their families are met, at this challenging time.
“We will provide support to pupils and school staff to help them deal with this tragedy. Psychologists from the National Educational Psychological Services have been with us in our school supporting staff and parents.”
At the scene of the fire on the remote road outside the town, a growing number of teddy bears, toys, flowers and candles have been placed by locals.
Local Franciscan priest Fr John O’Brien said there is “deep sadness like a cloud” hanging over the community.
“There’s that feeling of being dazed, confused until we say ‘how do we come to terms with this?’” he told RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland. “The sense of unreality that we have to face a terrible tragedy. The sense of unreality: did it really happen and, all of a sudden, we realise yes it did. The two little kids are dead.
"So, there’s an overwhelming feeling of sadness, disbelief and not being able to find words yet to put on it.
“The other thing people are doing at the moment is just meeting informally. Mothers are talking about it and they’re worried about their kids going to school tomorrow, how they’re going to face the news.
"It’s going to be hard on the teachers and very hard on the little ones who are going to face this terrible sense of grief and loss. That’s really where the healing begins."
He added: “We don’t have any magic wand to wave that will take away the tears, we just have to sit and be with somebody and if there are tears let them flow. It’s a lonely time for everybody.”
Fr O’Brien said he was driving home on Friday evening when a garda car passed by him and he “knew from the speed that something was up”.
“Then, the next day, there were helicopters flying, people coming and going, roads closed off, guards everywhere in the fields. You felt like, from a very quiet place, all of a sudden it was a deeply tragic place, a deeply lonely place too.”
Fr O’Brien added that he spoke to a woman whose son was a friend of one of the deceased children and she asked: “How are we going to tell him this, how are we going to help him through it?
“Because it’s going to be very hard for a five-year-old to take this on board. As an adult we find it hard, but as a little child the sense of loss can be devastating.”
“She’s not the only mother [who feels this way] – she represents many mothers at the moment.”