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'I cannot bring myself to walk down the road where she died'

Just after midnight on September 4, 1999, Raonaid Murray was murdered savagely with a knife only 500 yards from her home in the south Dublin suburb of Glenageary.

Thursday marked the ninth anniversary of the killing, and this week a Dublin county coroner adjourned an inquest into her death until July of next year while a Garda investigation continues. The murder may remain unsolved, but the case continues to have a firm grip on the public imagination.

Her parents may not wish it, but the 17-year-old has virtually achieved iconic status. Her image still gazes out from the front pages of newspapers.

So why is Raonaid remembered, while many other victims have been forgotten? Perhaps it is because most Irish parents and their teenage children could identify so readily with the killing. Like most suburbs and neighbourhoods in Ireland, Glenageary -- the area next to Dun Laoghaire and Dalkey -- was considered a safe place to walk at any time of the night or day.

The apparently random killing of an innocent teenager on the way back from a pub was all the more shocking because it was so rare -- not just in affluent suburbs of south Dublin, but in the country at large.

Michael Berry, visiting professor of forensic psychology at Dublin Business school, says murders such as that of Raonaid stand out in Ireland because they are uncommon.

"Ireland actually has one of lowest homicide rates of any country in the Western world,'' says Berry.

The numbers may be small, but Raonaid is now part of a distressing litany of high-profile unsolved cases stretching back over two decades. They include: Philip Cairns, the Rathfarnham schoolboy who disappeared without trace in 1986; Annie McCarrick, an American 26-year-old who was last seen boarding a bus to Enniskerry, Co Wicklow in 1993; Jo Jo Dullard, who disappeared while hitch-hiking back to her home in Callan, Co Kilkenny in 1995; and Fiona Sinnott, the 19-year-old mother who went missing in Wexford in February, 1998.

Forensic psychologist Berry says these unsolved cases are particularly difficult to investigate, because most of the crimes were probably committed by strangers.

Typically, according to Berry, the murderer who evades capture is a man over 30. If the killing is planned, he has developed the skills to avoid detection.

The psychologist believes the profile of Raonaid's killer is likely to be somewhat different to this, however.

"I believe it is most likely that Raonaid's killer was aged between 17 and 25. He may have known or thought he knew Raonaid. He may have seen her somewhere and felt that he knew her.''

Raonaid was on her way home after leaving Scotts pub in Dun Laoghaire, when she was attacked and stabbed in the side, chest and shoulder.

While a prime suspect has never been officially identified in the case, Berry's profile of a killer fits in more or less with forensic profiling by detectives.

Detective Gerry O'Carroll, who worked on the case before his retirement in 2000, this week said in his column in the Evening Herald: "Forensic profiling tells us that he would be a young man, in his mid to late twenties, single, living either alone or with his mother, a loner, possibly with a drug problem. He may also have been in psychiatric care on a number of occasions.

"He would also have had a history of anti-social behaviour and would be unlikely to have an intimate relationship. There is no doubt that Raonaid's killer was a disturbed, dangerous psycho-path and our fears at the time were that he would strike again.''

In the aftermath of her death, the picture painted of Raonaid, who had attended St Joseph of Cluny secondary school, was of a normal teenager who loved George Michael, kept her favourite teddy bear on her bed and dreamt of seeing the world.

To Colin Hill, an assistant manager of Scotts pub, where she visited before her death, she was a friendly, good-looking girl who stood out from the crowd.

Some critics of media coverage of the murder believe that Raonaid's case has been given undue attention, while other killings, particularly those of men in working-class areas of Dublin, stay well below the radar.

Berry says the killing of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, the two English children who were murdered by school caretaker Ian Huntley, was an example of this selective memory of murder.

"At the time, I remember working on a case of a 14-year-old black kid who disappeared, and there were appeals by the parents, and it received virtually no attention.''

Berry adds that there are several factors that affect how much attention a murder receives.

"If the killer is caught quickly, it tends not to receive so much coverage. However, if a long time elapses, and the public is involved in the investigation, the victim's case is highlighted more.''

Sean Hammond, a lecturer in forensic psychology at University College Cork, says high-profile murders can often have a profound impact on our behaviour and our feelings of safety.

"They can leave an indelible mark. Even though the risks may be very low, people may no longer feel that it is safe to walk the streets at night. If you take a case like that of Madeleine McCann, people would have adjusted their behaviour towards their children as a result of that."

One mother, who lived close to Raonaid Murray's home, says she still cannot bring herself to walk down the road where she died.

Of course, the most profound impact is felt by the family and friends of the victim, even many years after the death.

"It is particularly difficult for the family if the perpetrator has not been found,'' says Berry. "There may still be that element of doubt in their mind about whether the killer was a local person or someone who lived nearby.''

Raonaid's parents, Jim and Deirdre, were saying little about the case this week other than to renew their appeals to the public for any information which may lead to the arrest of the killer.

Gardai, who recently stepped up their investigations of the case again, may be pinning their hopes of a breakthrough on people who were on the streets of Dun Laoghaire on the night of the murder and are now in their twenties and thirties. Was there someone who saw something on that night, but stayed silent?

They have had nearly a decade to reflect and, possibly having achieved a certain level of maturity, one of these young people may find that now, close to the ninth anniversary, is an opportune moment to come forward.

Gardai and the Murray family are urging anyone with information to contact the incident room at Dun Laoghaire Garda station (01 6665012) or the confidential line (1800 666111)