Belfast Telegraph

Lyra McKee murder: Devastated partner in moving plea for an end to the madness

Donna Deeney

By Donna Deeney

The heartbroken partner of murdered journalist Lyra McKee has said her death must not be in vain.

The plea came as police last night released chilling CCTV footage which appears to show the moment a gunman opened fire at officers, killing the 29-year-old.

Lyra, an innocent bystander, was shot in the head by dissident republicans during the disturbances in Derry on Thursday evening.

Police have blamed the New IRA for the killing.

A senior detective called for the community's help to stop the "madness".

Prime Minister Theresa May led condemnation, calling the murder "shocking and senseless".

Former US President Bill Clinton said he was "heartbroken", adding that it was a reminder not to let go of more than two decades of peace.

Lyra's partner Sara Canning described her as the love of her life and a shining light in the lives of those who knew her.

"Our hopes and dreams and all of her amazing potential was snuffed out by this single barbaric act," she told a vigil in the city.

Ms Canning said the "senseless murder" had left her "without the love of my life, the woman I was planning to grow old with".

She added: "This cannot stand, Lyra's death must not be in vain because her life was a shining light in everyone else's life and her legacy will live on and the life that she has left behind."

Lyra was shot during disturbances in the Creggan estate on Thursday night.

CCTV images of the gunman issued by police
CCTV images of the gunman issued by police
CCTV images of the gunman issued by police
CCTV images of the gunman issued by police
Forensic experts search for evidence
Deputy Chief Constable Stephen Martin

Detectives believe the violence was orchestrated in response to an earlier search by officers aimed at averting trouble linked to the anniversary of the Easter Rising.

A masked gunman fired shots at police officers at about 11pm and the journalist, who was standing near a police 4x4 vehicle, was hit.

Moments before her death, she had posted an image from the scene of the riots on Twitter that showed smoke rising into the air above police vehicles, along with the caption: 'Derry tonight. Absolute madness.'

Last night the detective leading the murder investigation echoed calls from across the political spectrum for the community to help police identify the killer.

Detective Superintendent Jason Murphy said: "Lyra's death is senseless and appalling beyond belief. It represents the tragic loss of promise and the loss of potential, however it should not be the loss of hope.

"We know that the people of Creggan do not support what happened and they stand with us today in outrage and disgust at the mayhem that took place on their streets on Thursday night."

In CCTV footage released by the PSNI, Lyra can be seen standing with a crowd of people beside a police vehicle moments before she was shot.

She raised her mobile phone into the air to take a photo of the confrontations.

A third clip shows the masked shooter head-on as he steps from behind a wall then points a handgun towards police and bystanders.

Detectives released the footage, which also appears to show an accomplice picking up something from the ground where the gunman was standing, to encourage those with information to make contact.

Det Supt Murphy added: "People saw the gunman and people saw those who goaded young people out onto the streets, people know who they are.

"The answers to what happened last night lie within the community. I am asking people to do the right thing for Lyra McKee, for her family and for the city of Derry/Londonderry and help us stop this madness."

Yesterday the organisers of a march planned for Derry on Monday to commemorate the Easter Rising, which resulted in rioting last year, said it has been cancelled as a "mark of respect".

But there was anger at a statement from Saoradh, a political group representing dissident republicans, that tried to blame Lyra's death on police in Creggan conducting searches.

Described as a rising star in journalism, Lyra was an editor for California-based news site Mediagazer, a trade publication covering the media industry.

She had written for a range of publications, including the Belfast Telegraph, and was working on a new book, due to be published in 2020.

In 2014, aged 24, Lyra wrote to her teenage self about being gay, her future in journalism, and being happy. It was called 'Letter to my 14-year-old self', and it helped her gain widespread prominence. She also wrote about the issue of suicide in post-Troubles Northern Ireland.

In one article, she wrote: "We were the Good Friday Agreement generation, destined to never witness the horrors of war but to reap the spoils of peace. The spoils just never seemed to reach us."

Yesterday more than 2,000 people gathered in Creggan along with political leaders, including DUP leader Arlene Foster, Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald, SDLP leader Column Eastwood and Alliance leader Naomi Long.

Also attending the rally were Church leaders including Catholic Bishop of Derry Dr Donal McKeown and Church of Ireland Bishop Ken Good, along with the Deputy Chief Constable Stephen Martin and city civic leaders.

Earlier Mr Martin, who spent 11 years in Derry as the district commander, blamed the New IRA the murder.

He said: "Lyra's murder at the hands of a gunman has been met with global condemnation, horror and revulsion.

"The gunman and those who share his warped ideology should hang their heads in shame today, they represent no one.

"It's a cruel twist in our history that 21 years ago the majority of people in Northern Ireland signed up to the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement yet here we are today mourning the loss of a talented young woman, a young journalist who was also a daughter, a sister and a partner."

Local priest Father Joseph Gormley, who comforted Lyra's family in hospital, accused the killers of forcing their viewpoint on others down the barrel of a gun.

He asked: "Have you no sense of humanity or dignity about yourself?"

In a joint statement, the leaders of the six main local political parties said it was an attack on the peace process.

They added: "It was a pointless and futile act to destroy the progress made over the last 20 years, which has the overwhelming support of people everywhere.

"We are united in rejecting those responsible for this heinous crime."

Mr Clinton, who as US President played a key role in the peace process in the 1990s, tweeted: "Heartbroken by the murder of Lyra McKee and the violence in Derry. The challenges in NI today are real - but we cannot let go of the last 21 years of hard-won peace and progress. This tragedy is a reminder of how much everyone has to lose if we do."

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: "An activist and journalist, she changed lives as she lived and will do so again in death."

Michelle Stanistreet, National Union of Journalists general secretary, said Ms McKee was one of the most promising journalists in Northern Ireland.

She said: "A young, vibrant life has been destroyed in a senseless act of violence. A bright light has been quenched and that plunges all of us into darkness."

Vigils in Lyra's memory were held in Belfast, Derry and Dublin.

The vigil in the Creggan was organised by local residents who said they felt sad and angry. Spokesman George McGowan said: "This behaviour is not in our name. We have all been wounded by these actions."

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