Emotional witness recalls vivid memories of finding the carnage of Kingsmills
The first person to come across the terrible scene of the Kingsmills massacre has described how he felt helpless and distraught at the sight of 10 dead bodies.
Newry man Gerry McKeown discovered Alan Black still alive among the carnage and told the inquest into the killings yesterday how the pair prayed together.
He met Mr Black outside Laganside courts for the first time since he visited him in hospital immediately after the 1976 atrocity.
Mr Black was the sole survivor of Kingsmills after the IRA forced he and his colleagues from a minibus, lined them up and opened fire.
Minutes later Mr McKeown came across the scene. He had been driving his wife Anne and two children to the village of Whitecross in Co Armagh where she ran a confectionery shop.
A friend of the Reavey family - three members of whom had been shot dead by loyalists the night before - Mr McKeown had intended to return to Newry to accompany the bodies of his friends home to Whitecross.
Instead he came across the third horrifying tragedy that Co Armagh had seen in as many days, including the slaughter of the three members of the O'Dowd family in Ballydougan.
He told Senior Coroner Brian Sherrard yesterday how he stopped his car when he saw a stationary lorry on the road.
The lorry driver warned him; "you don't want to go up there", but Mr McKeown proceeded to the scene and saw a minibus surrounded by bodies.
"I have never seen anything like it and felt helpless about what I could do. I went to each body in turn to see if there was anything I could do," he said.
"I said a prayer out loud, then I went back to the car, I was unable to cope and I cried.
"Anne came back up to the minibus with me and we found a man lying in a ditch, he was very lucid, he said his name was Alan Black.
"He asked me how the other men were. I couldn't tell him."
Mr McKeown said Mr Black thought he was going to die and asked him to tell his wife to take care of the children.
"I recall I was extremely distressed. Afterwards I went to the priest's house," he told the inquest.
Mr McKeown became emotional as he recalled sitting with Mr Black and him asking how young Robert Chambers was (Mr Black's teenage apprentice), who was lying dead beside them.
"There was another man lying beside us," Mr McKeown told the inquest, unable to speak for several minutes as the memory of what he saw came back to him.
"I get flashes. Straight after the incident any time I drove past that spot I put my foot to the board, I was not stopping for anyone.
"In recent times it has become more vivid. When I knew I was coming to the court it all came back."
Mrs McKeown also gave evidence and described her husband as "distraught" when he came back from seeing the scene.
"Gerry came back in tears saying men are dead," she told the inquest.
"He was distraught.
"Gerry and I walked up the hill and saw lots of bodies and then I became aware of Alan Black.
"Gerry was kneeling beside him and had put his coat around him."
The inquest is set to resume next Wednesday, however the unexpected matching of a palm print from the IRA's getaway car has sparked a fresh police probe.
PSNI counsel Peter Coll QC revealed yesterday that the print was finally matched after a forensic officer read a media report of the inquest's first day and using their own initiative asked their bosses if they could try.
Neil Rafferty QC, speaking for a number of the families, told the inquest they had asked police eight times about the palm print over the past 40 years and had been "fobbed off".
"It was not until the inquest's second day that a match was detected, of me the families asked a question if this is incompetence on an epic scale or something more sinister," he said.
"The timing is viewed by them with deep distrust and concern."
Mr Rafferty also urged Coroner Sherrard to continue the inquest, saying the families he represents told him they have learned more from the few days the inquest has sat than they have in the past 40 years.