Heartbroken family prepare to bury Ronan Kerr
The body of the 25-year-old Catholic policeman murdered in a car bomb made its journey down winding country roads to the family home last night.
Constable Ronan Kerr was setting off for work when he was killed in an explosion outside his Omagh home last Saturday.
The dissident republican atrocity meant he never got to spend Mothering Sunday with his mum Nuala or his siblings the next day.
Instead the family was reunited in the saddest of circumstances at Constable Kerr's widowed mother’s house in the village of Beragh, Co Tyrone.
Meanwhile, some six miles away in Omagh, at least a dozen officers combed the bomb scene.
Constable Kerr had been in the force for under a year and had only recently moved into the newly-built Highfield Close estate when he became the second PSNI officer to die at the hands of terrorists.
Flowers had been placed at the cul-de-sac entrance, just off the Gortin Road, accompanied by messages of sorrow and disbelief.
Among the bouquets of yellow daffodils and pink carnations, neighbour Kenny Clements left a poem by way of comfort to the Kerr family.
Police officers armed with rifles and pistols patrolled the roadway, stopping drivers, asking questions, seeking answers.
“Every so often a motorist tells me how sorry he or she is for what has happened,” one told me. “That means a lot to me and my colleagues.”
The young officer’s house seems immense now, empty and imposing, protected by a police cordon.
Apart from the smell of petrol in the air and the 10 police vehicles, all that’s left as a reminder of the brutal, merciless murder is a medium-sized oil stain.
It remains where his car was parked, punctuated with what must be small specks of glass from the Ford Mondeo’s windows.
Earlier in the day forensic teams were searching bins, removing evidence and looking through flower beds for any sign that might lead detectives to the people who killed their colleague.
Almost all of the residents evacuated in the aftermath of the atrocity have been allowed to return home. Many are still shaken by the evil that visited their quiet neighbourhood.
The booby-trap bomb, the sickening noise of it, the dreadful outcome and the anguished aftermath will not be forgotten by these people any time soon.
The late police officer's personality has left a lasting impression on those who knew him, including friends at Beragh Red Knights GAA Club, where he was regarded as a decent, hardworking and genuine individual.
Chairman Gearoid O Treasaigh said Ronan's decision to join the police was supported by his team-mates. These were, after all, changed times in Northern Ireland.
“Ronan Kerr was a Catholic, an Irishman and a Gael who joined the PSNI because he wanted to play his part in making our society better,” Mr O Treasaigh said.
“Many members of our club were aware of Ronan's career path and supported him in his choice.”
He added: “The GAA stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the Kerr family, the PSNI and the entire community in condemning outright this murder.
“We also send a strong message today to all of those people who continue to engage in this activity: you have no support in our community and your actions do not represent the views and feelings of the vast majority of people in Ireland.”
At Constable Kerr's former school, the Christian Brothers Grammar in Omagh, principal Paul Brannigan described him as a cheerful, hard-working boy.
His violent, senseless death has installed a deep sense of disbelief, disgust and grief among pupils, parents and teachers alike.
Here, nobody can understand the loss of someone so young, someone setting out on his career, determined to live a life of service to the community.
Prayers are being said daily for Ronan at the family’s local church where his funeral will take place later in the week.
In a moving tribute to her 25-year-old son on Mother’s Day, Nuala Kerr said he was a wonderful son and brother who always had a smile and a helping hand for everyone.
Calling for his death not to be in vain, she also urged other Catholics not to be put off from joining the PSNI.
The Trade Union movement will be holding a rally in Belfast city centre tomorrow to allow people to express their rejection of the bombers.