Ballymoney murder: An ordinary night on a quiet street, and then the peace is shattered by shotgun blasts
A quiet street on the fringes of a sedate town park in Ballymoney was visited by murder in the hours of darkness.
Despite several children being at home at Riverview Park in the Co Antrim town, a masked and armed gang burst in around 10.30pm and in the chaos that followed the householder, mother-of-four Ashley Craig was attacked by the intruders in her kitchen as 42-year-old Brian McIlhagga was dragged outside and brutally beaten.
Then, at least one shotgun blast rang out and as his life ebbed away the brave efforts of local people were in vain as the emergency services raced to the scene. But, tragically, it was too late to save him.
Neighbours said that they heard what sounded like two shots before three police cars and two ambulances arrived.
Leah Gregg (67) said: "I heard two bangs that might have been shots." Her husband Leslie Gregg (74) said: "I'm shocked that something like this has happened in a quiet area like this. We have been here for 20 years and nothing like this has ever happened before."
Another resident, Ivy Owens, said: "This is a huge shock. It is such a quiet area but when it is so close to our house it is scary. It puts things in perspective."
Yesterday the area was sealed off as police appealed for information, especially about the movement of people and vehicles in the Riverview Park area between 10pm and 11pm on Monday.
Senior investigating officer, Detective Chief Inspector Michael Harvey, said: "Just before 10.30pm last night a 32-year-old female contacted police on the 999 number from a house at 10 Riverview Park. She reported that three masked and armed males had forced their way into the property. She was assaulted in the kitchen and forced to lie on the kitchen floor.
"A male (42), who we believe to be Brian McIlhagga, was also present and was taken from the house to the front where he was assaulted and shot. Tragically he died as a result of his injuries.
"This was a brutal, sustained and vicious assault. Also present in the house were four young children, 13 years and younger. We have no information at this stage to rule in or rule out paramilitaries or any other motives for this attack."
The senior investigator said he could not comment on whether the children witnessed the incident and he added: "Once the results of a post mortem are known then the actual cause of death will be established. At this stage I can say he was shot in the legs once."
Ashley Craig was taken to hospital with injuries which were not life-threatening and yesterday on her Facebook page a new picture was posted of her with her arm around Brian.
Ballymoney Mayor Bill Kennedy said: "This is an absolute tragedy and is hard to take at any time of the year but especially at the beginning of a New Year.
"I utterly and totally condemn it."
North Antrim MLA Mervyn Storey, who is from Ballymoney, added: "When something like this happens it causes concern and fear in the community.
"It is very sad that whatever the circumstances and whatever the motive, a man has lost his life and a lady has been attacked."
He said he had previously warned that it was only a matter of time before somebody died following a number of incidents involving guns in the Ballymoney area in recent years.
Police can be contacted at a murder inquiry room in Ballymoney Police Station on 101.