The murder of Detective Garda Colm Horkan is a brutal reminder of the uniquely dangerous and unpredictable nature of police work, where the threat of violence hangs over every working day.
Shocking atrocities like this tend to occur at the most unexpected time in the least likely location – as if there is a type of place or time for such brutality.
The last thing anyone expects is for a garda to be gunned down late at night in a sleepy country town.
What we know of the circumstances of this appalling tragedy thus far is that it illustrates the threat of violence the average police officer faces around every corner or behind every door.
The risk of danger lies in the unpredictable outcome of encounters with people where, in the flicker of an eye, a situation can descend into chaos with catastrophic results.
As any seasoned cop will tell you, there is no manual of standard operating procedures for dealing with volatile, capricious human beings. Each incident is different, and the only reliable template is the officer’s common sense.
What we know at this stage is that the shooting took place near Castlerea garda station around midnight, where Colm Horkan was attached to the local detective unit in the Co Roscommon town and was on the night shift.
The experienced detective’s attention was drawn to a man in the street and he stopped his car to investigate. It was probably something that he had done on countless occasions over this distinguished 25-year career.
Like police everywhere, he was trying to keep the peace and calm the situation when he approached the man.
But somehow, a violent scuffle broke out between the garda and the man in the street. He somehow managed to grab the officer’s gun and shot him with it.
Garda Horkan died from gunshot wounds at the scene shortly before midnight and the man he confronted is in custody.
The murder of the garda has already led to an inevitable outpouring of shock, revulsion and sadness across the nation, which is reflected in the comments of the President, Taoiseach and the Garda Commissioner amongst others.
The last frontline officer murdered in the line of duty was Garda Tony Golden, who was shot dead by deranged thug Adrian Crevan Mackin.
The men and women of An Garda Siochána have a close relationship with the ordinary, decent, law-abiding citizens of this country, which is unique and sets us apart from other states.
In the hours since Detective Garda Horkan’s horrific killing, we have quickly learned of a dedicated police officer who was heavily involved in his local GAA club in his native Charlestown, County Mayo.
A picture is emerging of a decent, honourable man; an unsung hero of the community that he served – a man who quietly and without fuss, enriched the lives of those around him.
He was typical of the caliber of men and women who serve in our national police force. It is only when mind-numbing tragedy like this occurs that we ever give those on the thin blue line the credit and thanks that they deserve.
Colm Horkan is the 89th garda to be killed in the line of duty since the foundation of An Garda Siochána.
By way of tragic coincidence, the detective’s murder has taken place just weeks before the 40th anniversary of the deaths of gardaí Henry Byrne and John Morley, who were also attached to Castlerea station.
On July 7, 1980, the two were gunned down by an INLA gang following a bank robbery in the town.
Like Colm Horkan, the two heroes were also both Mayo men. Morley and Byrne, who were from the same parish, are buried side by side on a hillside graveyard overlooking Knock.
This needless killing should remind us all of the inherently dangerous situations our gardaí find themselves in every day as they protect and serve society.
It is why an attack on one of them is an attack on us all.