Aoife Finneran: Everybody asks the question, why?

Aoife Finneran

Camera flashes lit up the upstairs windows of the semi-detached house in Hazelgrove.

For the cluster of people watching from the street, the flashes told their own grim story. Inside, a member of the Garda Technical Bureau was busy taking a series of photographs, documenting for future reference the gruesome scene where the bodies of two little children had been found.

There in an upstairs room lay the remains of three-and-a-half-year-old Reece Hines and his baby sister Amy, aged just five months.

Downstairs, gardai had been greeted by a similarly horrific sight when they gained entry to the suburban house shortly before 2pm yesterday. In a front room they found the body of Reece and Amy's mother Sarah, a 25-year-old who had just moved to the estate two months previously from Tournafulla, some 20 miles away.

Alongside her were the remains of her friend Alicia Brough, who lived in Rockchapel in Cork.

As the house gave up its four shocking secrets yesterday, the area was hit by heavy storms, the howling winds and biting rain providing a fitting backdrop on a day where Limerick was hit by a quadruple murder.

At a briefing yesterday evening, Chief Superintendent Dave Sheahan delicately remarked that all four victims had suffered "violent" deaths. Coming from a seasoned officer, it was a comment that spoke volumes about the depth of the carnage.

Around the same time, the family of Sarah Hines had just been informed of the deaths of their daughter and her children. It wasn't until later in the evening that the family of 20-year-old Alicia received the heartbreaking news of her death.


Young mum Sarah Hines wasn't well known in Hazelgrove, having only rented a house there two months ago.

There are 32 houses in the small, well-kept estate, most of them owned by mature couples who have lived there for decades. The arrival of new neighbours had been noticed alright, given that there are only a few rented properties in the estate, but as the young family "kept themselves to themselves", locals hadn't got a chance to get to know them.

In recent weeks, little Reece had become a familiar sight outside the semi-detached house, playing football with his friends on the small green area. A wooden shed stands in the small front yard, below a satellite dish.

One resident who rents the adjacent property recalled hearing music in the house late on Sunday night and into Monday morning. Normally, however, nobody ever heard "a peep" out of the young family. Nobody remembered seeing anything untoward.

It wasn't until lunchtime yesterday, when gardai were spotted entering the premises, that neighbours realised anything was wrong in their midst.

"I didn't know why they were there but then I heard it on the news," admitted one woman. "We didn't know them. It's very quiet in this estate and a lot of us are retired and I suppose you don't tend to see people as much when your kids aren't around."

Another added: "It's just too sad to talk about." It was a sentiment echoed by several in the locality, such was the sense of shock and despair that tragedy had unfolded at their own back doors.

Adding to the horror was the uncomfortable realisation that a similar nightmare had erupted in Ballycotton in Cork. One elderly woman, holding back tears, spoke fiercely of her anger at the manner in which some media outlets had reported on the two tragedies.

She explained: "There are four little kids dead today, and the first item on the news was another piece about the economy.

"We're hearing that sort of thing every day, but it's obviously not important when four children are killed in their homes. I'm just so disgusted. That's what life is worth these days."

Late in the evening, as the rumour mill spun into overdrive, it emerged that a 31-year-old man had been arrested in connection with the murders. He had just finished a meal and was drinking a pint in a pub in the Clare seaside town of Kilkee when he was arrested by gardai. Several miles away in Newcastle West, members of the garda Crime Scene Investigation Unit were busy documenting the harrowing details of Reece and Amy's horrific deaths.

Shortly after 9pm, a local doctor arrived at the scene and was ushered into the house by gardai. His presence was required, an important formality in order to pronounce each of the victims dead. Tragically, nobody who attended that bleak scene would have been in any doubt that every trace of life had been snuffed out of the four bodies inside.

Today, everyone is asking themselves, why?