Vigil lights 'Ardoyne at its best'
A SHOW of solidarity by thousands of people at a candle-lit vigil in north Belfast has been hailed as "Ardoyne at its best" by local priest Fr Gary Donegan.
Fr Donegan was speaking after he led prayers at the vigil for local mother of three Donna Hawkins, who was sexually assaulted and left badly beaten by a gang of three men in the Crumlin Road area.
Donna's father, mother, sisters and extended family led over 2,000 members of the local community from the junction of Alliance Avenue and Berwick Road to Crumlin Star, just yards from where she was attacked on November 17.
"There has been a sense of doubt and fear and anxiety in people over the last days," said Fr Donegan. "There's a sense of prayer and reaching out to Donna and the family but also the anger is palpable.
"You could only be proud to be here tonight because this is what Ardoyne is at its best. People are sending out a message that this kind of thing will not be tolerated and that there is a solidarity, there is a sense of unity, of purpose in the area to protect and look after the innocent."
Donna's sister Louise spoke at the rally saying that the show of community solidarity had been a great comfort to her.
"She really appreciates it and it is spurring her on to know that the people of this community are behind her. I want to thank you all for coming."
"We just want anybody who has any information with regards to Saturday night to come forward with anything they saw, the smallest bit of information could be a big bit of the jigsaw."
Donna chose to wave her anonymity following the attack to appeal to the wider community for help in catching her attackers. She described how she had walked on just minutes ahead of her husband after leaving a fundraiser at Crumlin Star social club when she was attacked from behind by three men.
In fighting them off, Donna was left with multiple injuries including a broken nose, broken cheekbones, cuts requiring stitches and numerous bruises.
Fr Donegan issued an appeal for everyone in the area, especially women, to be vigilant in the current times. "Through Donna's bravery and personal strength she was able to fight off her attackers and prevent an even more horrific scenario. It's scary to think that the attack could have happened to a more vulnerable member of our community , without Donna's strength. My message is for everyone to be vigilant and if avoidable not to be on their own when walking home."
Inform someone of where you are going and how long you will be."