Joanne McGibbon: 'I can't bear to stay here. I dread running into people who shot Michael'
Widow of Michael McGibbon, murdered in a 'punishment' shooting, says she’s too scared to remain in the home she loves
A devastated widow whose husband was taken from her by a paramilitary murder squad three weeks ago, is now being forced through fear of the killers to leave the family home she loves.
Joanne McGibbon says she can’t bear to stay in the house she shared with Michael, who died in her arms after being shot just yards from their front door.
The 33-year-old says she lives in fear of bumping into Michael’s killers, who are still free to roam the streets where she lives in north Belfast.
Joanne says the pain of being so close to the spot where she fought so hard to save her husband’s life is too much to cope with. She now plans to leave the area where she had enjoyed a happy family life because she no longer feels safe.
Joanne revealed: “I can’t stay here, there are too many memories and I don’t know who is round the corner.
“It will mean the youngest children having to change schools but I think a fresh start will do them good and they will make new friends and we can have their old friends over to visit.
“The Housing Executive is trying to get us a house outside of the city. I just hope it is soon and we can leave here and start again. We are frightened here and we can’t stay.”
The family feel indebted to the local community for their support in the last few weeks but feel they have no choice but to leave.
In a moving tribute to her husband, Joanne told the Belfast Telegraph it is the little things she misses most — his joy at cooking for his family, sitting at the kitchen table helping his children with their homework and always making sure with a kind word that she knew how much he loved her.
It is only three weeks since the devoted family man was ordered to leave his home for a meeting in an alleyway where he was shot dead, allegedly because he said something to offend the daughter of a republican paramilitary.
Joanne has no doubt that the gunmen intended to kill. Michael was shot twice in what she insists was not a punishment shooting but murder.
It left her world and that of her four children in pieces. The loss of Michael has devastated family life as they knew it and adding to their grief is a terrible fear which is now driving them from their home.
Joanne says she can’t bear for her and her children to walk past the spot where Michael was killed.
She also fears running into the men who killed him.
It breaks her heart that her oldest daughter Seana (17) is also afraid, so much so that she is now carrying an alarm when she goes out to meet her friends.
Joanne has touched hearts across the community with the strength she has shown in her brave condemnation of her husband’s killers and her appeals for peace across local communities.
The void left in the lives of her four children — Seana, Shea (8), Michaela (6) and Corry-Leigh (4) — is one she is endeavouring to fill as she struggles to come to terms with the reality that the man she loved is gone for good.
She added: “To us Michael was the best and bravest daddy and husband in the world. He would have done anything for the kids and me, and proved it right to the end. He never put himself first, although in ways I wish he had.
“He used to tell me how beautiful and smart I was, but he was the most beautiful, smartest person I knew and he never really believed it. He loved to cook for us, and the week he died he said, ‘Joanne I love watching you and the kids eat, it makes me so happy’.
“He would have done anything for his mummy when she was alive and his daddy if he asked him.
“He looked after his nephew and loved helping the kids with their homework and tried his best to ensure they were all very well mannered like us.
“It’s so hard without him, just trying to keep things normal, playing games with the kids, visiting good friends, and good friends and family visiting us, but it’s not the same without him and never will be.
“The kids cry a lot, breaking their wee hearts, because they don’t really understand, how can they when I don’t understand myself? I have to go and get Shea’s hair trimmed, something Michael always did with him, but that’s not the only change, my kids have missed out on a few weeks of school, and will be experiencing big changes in their lives in the next lot of months.”
Joanne is now doing her best to help her children cope with their loss as she struggles to make sense of what has happened.
She says: “I have told the children what happened because they heard from friends and I wanted them to know the truth.
“They understand their daddy is in heaven and that he is with them in spirit.
“Seana has been so great and really supportive of me but she is feeling it. She is scared and terrified of living here because of what happened. When she goes out with her wee friends she takes an alarm and I don’t want her to have to live like that, with that fear.”
Joanne was 18 and Michael 17 when they met. They had been inseparable ever since. She describes him as her first and only great love.
She was a single mum to Seana at the time and says Michael became a daddy to her straight away, loving her like his own.
When she nursed her dying mother in their home in 2014, she said of Michael: “He helped me look after my mummy and was my rock and shoulder to cry on, my best friend ever.”
Joanne feared the worst on April 15 when Michael was approached as he picked his children up from school and was ordered to meet two men in an alleyway close to his home that night. Michael had left the house just a short time when a frantic Joanne rang a friend to come over and sit with the children so that she could follow him and make sure he was alright.
She arrived at the nearby alleyway to find her husband dying in a pool of blood. As a trained nurse she tried everything to save her husband while she waited on the ambulance to arrive.
She says: “I worked so hard to save him but the weapon used had blown right through the artery, right through his leg. The blood was pouring from both sides of his knee. I was just grateful that I was there to comfort him when he took his last breath, and I thank God for that.
“I would also like people to know that Michael was shot twice, not three times, once in the left ankle and once in the artery at the back of his knee, the popliteal artery, I believe it’s called. This wasn’t a punishment shooting, it was murder.
“I do believe that the bleeding couldn’t be stopped but I also question what took the police and ambulance 30 minutes to get to him? I work in the NHS and understand the pressure they’re under, but this was an emergency.
“Again, I think it was fear, and as I said before, the light is greater than the darkness. It won’t help Michael, but hopefully it will help others
“I referred to these criminals as animals, my mistake, that’s not fair on animals.
“They are evil, cruel people who haven’t got the decency to let me know the reason for their cruel actions.
“They will be judged one day, not by me, but by the powers that be, God as I believe, is the only one who has the right to take that life away.
“I have had so much support in the past few weeks, and some have said they think I will play a role in this peace process, and I hope they are right. It needs to change for a better future for our children and us.
“I don’t know how I will help but if I can I will and maybe some good can come of this.
“I don’t understand why the two communities can’t continue to stand together, to erase this evil, without breaking the peace process and walk together into the future, as a union. The past is in the past, let’s leave it there and work on a brighter future.
“Father Gary Donegan described these criminals as the shadows, the darkness, but I have seen that the light is stronger and we need not be afraid, there is more light than darkness.”
Joanne is doing her best to be strong for her children.
She has been given six months’ leave from her job as a nurse in the Royal Victoria Hospital and will use the time to rebuild her life and start again without Michael.
She doesn’t sleep and says she has found some comfort when listening to The Corrs’ album ‘White Light’. “It reminds me of our lives and gives me hope for both sides of our community, all of the world even, if that was possible.”
Her hope now is that some good can come out of the evil of Michael’s murder.
She adds: “We were never involved in any paramilitary groups. We weren’t perfect; we were just like other families trying to do what’s best for our kids and have a happy life. I know my wee family will go into the future trying to help society and not destroy it like these criminals who ended their daddy’s life.
“My kids and I will have happy, successful lives because Michael will make sure of that, and that’s how we reared our kids and I will continue to do so for as long as I live.”