A mum smothered her seven-year-old daughter after she made her First Holy Communion, then hanged herself, an inquest has heard.
Speaking at the inquest into the deaths of Donegal woman Catriona Innes (26) and her daughter Caitlin, who were found dead at their home at Whitethorn Close, Letterkenny, on May 15 last year, Coroner Sean Cannon said that to take the life of a child was “beyond human reason”.
The jury returned verdicts of death due to hanging in relation to Ms Innes and death due to smothering of Caitlin Innes. Deputy State Pathologist Dr Michael Curtis said Caitlin was “most probably” smothered by a pillow being held over her nose and mouth.
Gardai found the bodies in the house after being contacted by Caroline Gallagher, a close friend of Ms Innes.
She became concerned that she had not been seen since she attended her daughter’s First Communion three days earlier. Caitlin was due to celebrate her eighth birthday five days after her body was discovered.
Mr Cannon said that while there were numerous suicide support groups, suicide prevention is “everybody’s responsibility”.
“To tackle this epidemic of suicide and self harm needs all our efforts to prevent the rise of suicide and the trauma and grief it causes to family and friends,” Mr Cannon said.
Caroline Gallagher recalled, in her deposition, that Ms Innes had looked “very happy” at her daughter’s First Communion. She added, however, that the young mother had confessed to her at an earlier date of finding work and life in general “tough”.
She said she became very worried after having not seeing the Innes for three days. She called to their house only to find the blinds closed and the car parked outside.
There was no answer when she rang the doorbell and she could hear Ms Innes’ mobile phone ringing inside when she dialled her number. She also saw a wallet on the kitchen table and the child’s school uniform hanging up.
Later that afternoon she received a call from Ms Innes’ employers to say that she did not turn up for work and that her daughter had not been to school. She then raised her concerns with Ms Innes’s mother in Bundoran and alerted gardai.
Garda Donlon broke down in the witness box as she described, how after finding Catriona Innes dead, she found the body of Caitlin Innes in an upstairs bedroom. She was lying in a bed covered with a duvet.
Ms Innes’s mother, Winnie, told the court her daughter was “over the moon” after she was awarded a new council house the day before the First Holy Communion.
She said Catriona and Caitlin joined them on Sunday afternoon in their hometown of Bundoran where they took pictures of the young girl in her Communion dress on a local beach. They returned to Letterkenny that evening. Ms Innes told the court she rang her daughter at 9.30pm and she told her she was tired and “fed up” and was going to go to bed.
When she asked her if she wanted to talk to her about her problems she replied “not tonight please”.
Ms Innes said she texted her daughter and granddaughter the following day but got no reply.
She said she and her husband were returning on the train from Dublin to Sligo when she got a call from her eldest daughter to tell them to come straight to her house.
“I knew straight away that they were dead,” Ms Innes told the court.
Dr Curtis said he believed both Catriona and Caitlin had been dead for some time, maybe a day or two, before their bodies were discovered.
He found that Ms Innes died as a result of hanging and that a very small trace of Ecstasy was found in her blood and urine.
He said Caitlin Innes died as a result of asphyxiation due to smothering caused either by a pillow being placed over her face or by her nose and mouth being blocked.
Jury foreman Bernard Doherty said every effort should be made to support communities in order to prevent such tragedies occurring in future.
The Innes family released a brief statement asking the media to respect their privacy.