OAP finally admits to attack that almost killed five-year-old boy
A 73-year-old man has admitted shooting a five-year-old boy in the head as he played with friends in the grounds of an Ulster primary school.
Fergus Cleary, from Ballydoolagh, Garvary, Enniskillen, pleaded guilty at Dungannon Crown Court to unlawfully and maliciously wounding Darragh Somers. He will now be sentenced at Omagh Crown Court on November 13.
Darragh was playing with friends during lunch break at St Patrick's Primary School at Garvary on April 22, 2005, when he was shot in the back of the head.
He was rushed to hospital where surgeons had to perform two major operations to remove a bullet from his brain.
Speaking from the family home at Drumbeg in Enniskillen, Darragh's mother, Jeannine, said the incident had "wrecked a whole family".
She and her husband, Gerald, are living apart. Gerald believes the separation "snowballed" from tensions surrounding the shooting of their son.
And he hopes he and his wife can resolve their differences. He also feels that in concentrating on Darragh and what happened to him they have neglected their two older boys, Patrick, who is 15 and a pupil at St Michael's College in Enniskillen, and Paul, who is 14 and a pupil at St Joseph's College in the town.
The injuries to Darragh will be with him for the rest of his life. The .22 bullet from Cleary's rifle smashed through the back of the schoolboy's skull and travelled to the frontal lob of the brain before hitting a bone and ricocheting back.
"He still has fragments in his brain that they will never be able to remove," said Jeannine.
She said the resulting disabilities would always be with him.
"The eyesight he lost - he will never get that back, and his left side will always be weaker than his right side," she said.
Darragh, now eight, has returned to St Patrick's, where he is in P4, and has a full-time classroom assistant to help him, but has difficulty maintaining his concentration.
Jeannine said: "He would still be a bubbly child but he would tire a lot easier now."
She said he loves playing with Lego, but when he can't get the pieces to fit together because of the weakness down his left side he becomes "very frustrated and very annoyed" and that is painful for her to watch.
"It could have been a lot, lot worse, and we know that," his mother said.
Gerald added: "In the first week we nearly lost him twice. He had two life-saving operations."
Jeannine said: "We are just more than grateful that we have him, but at the same time someone else did this. Someone else has left this child like this."
Neither of them can understand why it has taken Cleary two years and six months to admit that he shot their son.
Ironically, Cleary was a member of the Board of Governors at St Patrick's at the time of the shooting and signed a 'Get Well' card.
"That was really, really annoying. The fact that he signed his name on a 'Get Well' card to the child," added his mother.
She said it would probably have helped if they had known Cleary was going to plead guilty last Wednesday but the case was only listed in court in Dungannon "for mention".
"At least we would have heard him say he did it," she said.
Gerald added: "He could have put us out of our misery a long, long time ago, as far back as when I appeared on television and appealed for him to come forward.
"If they had told me he was going to plead guilty I would have been there in a heartbeat," he added.
He admitted that he felt "a little bit annoyed and bitter" that Cleary had never apologised or said "sorry" to the family.
"Don't get me wrong, I don't hate the man. It was an accident. At the end of the day he has to live with it," Gerald said.
But they still don't know exactly what happened to their son.
Jeannine said: "I would like to think he would be able to stand up and say what exactly did happen."
Referring to the enormous impact the shooting has had on the family, Gerald added: "I would like to think that now this is out of the way we can concentrate on ourselves, and maybe that is what we need.
"We don't know what the future holds but I think we can deal with pretty much anything now."