Ballymoney murder: Beaten with iron bars and shot... now his grieving family want to know why Brian McIlhagga was targeted
Bewildered dad anxious to find motive behind brutal attack which killed his son
The distraught family of a murder victim have told of their shock and bewilderment at the death of a dad who leaves behind five "devastated" children.
Brian 'Brick' McIlhagga, a well-known plasterer in the Ballymena area, died after being badly beaten with iron bars and blasted in the legs with a shotgun as he visited a friend's home in nearby Ballymoney.
Now his family are frantically searching for answers as to the murder motive.
The 42-year-old, who was separated, lived at home with his dad Ronnie and mum Jennifer at Cromkill Road near Ballymena, but in recent times had been travelling to Ballymoney to visit mum-of-four Ashley Craig (32).
Yesterday, grieving Ronnie, a former team leader in Ballymena's JTI cigarette factory, told the Belfast Telegraph his family were struggling to come to terms with their loss and said: "We would ask the question -why?"
Brian left his family home around 6pm on Monday for the 25-mile trip to Ms Craig's home in the quiet Riverview Park residential area on the edge of Ballymoney - but he was never to return.
At least three masked men broke into Ashley's house around 10.30pm on Monday and after assaulting her in the kitchen they dragged Mr McIlhagga through the house and assaulted him with crowbars before shooting him once in the legs.
Suffering serious injuries, he tragically passed away despite ambulances being quickly dispatched to the scene.
Ms Craig's four children, the eldest of which is 13, were in the house as the late night horror unfolded. It's not clear if they witnessed the attack. She was taken to hospital but her injuries were not thought to be life-threatening.
Mr McIlhagga is survived by his parents, brother Pete and sister Susan, as well as his five children aged 21, 17, 12-year-old twins and another child aged 10.
The McIlhagga family said Brian had been coy with information about his relationship with Ms Craig.
Speaking from his bungalow on the southern outskirts of Ballymena, Mr McIlhagga (65) said: "Brian lived at home with us and he had a family of his own but him and the girl had more or less parted company this brave while and he was seeing this girl, who I don't know, in Ballymoney."
Brian's brother Pete (33) added: "Was he seeing her but? He always said they were just friends."
Ronnie added: "He always maintained he was just friends but he was about Ballymoney at Christmas and then he was up here and down again. It seemed a quiet part of Ballymoney but I would not know the girl if she walked by the window."
Mr McIlhagga added that police liaison officers had been assisting his family but they are anxious to learn more.
"What this is all about I have not a clue, I just do not know.
"The police came here at 4.30 this morning and it was a big shock. We are finding it very hard to take in, it doesn't seem real but we would ask the question: why?"
Mr McIlhagga wondered if somebody was trying to scare his son away from the area and that possibly the attack went further than anticipated but added: "However, if you come to a house with a shotgun and crowbars it is serious.
"Brian certainly didn't deserve it but we just want to know a motive."
He added: "Brian was down here working yesterday and he came in last night near 6pm and he was down the room there and then I heard the front door closing, that's the last I heard him going out the door. He must have gone to Ballymoney."
Mr McIlhagga said the family were shocked and bewildered at what has happened but that his son's children have been "devastated".
Pete McIlhagga said social media was ablaze with tributes to his brother and he said they had come from far and near.
He said: "Brian was a very popular fella and had a very wide circle of friends and we discovered that especially today.
"He followed football and was a Liverpool supporter. He worked in Dublin for a lot of years but was back about 10 years and was working on a job in the Harryville area recently.
He added: "The police said at least three boys came into Ashley Craig's house. I have never met her."
The McIlhagga family were last night facing the grim task of bringing Brian's body home and making funeral arrangements.