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The gun flash and the blood ... I asked if I was going to die, recalls victim of terror gang

By Claire O'Boyle

Just five days after a gang of masked men forced their way into his house and blasted his legs with bullets, Michael McMahon is back home - terrified and in agony.

The house in Belfast's New Lodge is small and cold, and despite his father's best efforts, dried spots of blood are still dotted round the hallway.

The family say police haven't been back to see them since the night of the shooting and not a single public representative has stepped foot through the door.

Most local people have also kept their distance - leaving Michael and his father feeling vulnerable and exposed.

Michael (26) was shot three times in his legs - once in the left and twice in the right - as he sat on the stairs. His petrified father Damian was just feet away as it happened, locked away and helpless in the living room.

An hour earlier, a 41-year-old man was shot in the west of the city.

"It's been terrifying," said Damian. "We don't know what to do next, we don't know where to turn. We want to speak out because what happened isn't right - but we're terrified too that they'll come back and do worse the next time."

Michael and his father are among just a handful of families ever to speak out after a paramilitary attack.

And as they made the brave move to talk yesterday, the pair revealed that Michael was issued with a death threat two years ago, but they have no idea why he was targeted this time.

The McMahons also disclosed that the gunmen left the door of their house open throughout the attack as a warning to others.

Damian, who raised Michael and his two siblings, was watching TV at 8.30pm on Sunday when his youngest son rapped the front window. He had been at a friend's house.

"Between me seeing him there and getting to the front door, two men were on top of him," said Damian. "They pushed him in and told him to sit down on the stairs, and a third man followed. They told him to turn his head and look away.

"They pushed and fought with me, and said if I didn't move I'd get done. They forced me into the front room and shut the door and I couldn't get out to help my son. I heard the gun go off, one, two, three times. They tried a fourth shot, but it jammed."

Lying on a grey settee in the tiny living room, Michael is thin and grey and weak. One leg is bare but bandaged, while the other is in a huge cast that goes right up to his thigh.

"When the gun jammed on the fourth shot, I turned my eyes to the side and saw the sparks coming out of it," Michael said. "They ran out the front door and I dived down the stairs through the door to my da.

"There was so much blood it was like a swimming pool. I could have dived into it. Every time I close my eyes now, I'm seeing it. The flash of the gun, and the blood. I asked him if I was going to die."

Michael's been prescribed a long list of powerful painkillers and they're affecting his speech.

While he talks the talk and says he's not scared, his eyes tell a different story.

"I just want to get away from here," he said, wincing as the pain from his legs shoots through his body. "Newcastle, the country. Alaska. I don't care. I just don't want to be here. I hate it."

Damian, who himself was injured in the Clifton Tavern shooting in 1997, explained his son is far from angelic - but that he suffers from learning difficulties.

Five days later they remain clueless about what he did to provoke such a vicious attack.

"He's had three bullets in his legs," he said. "It was like a sea of blood in here.

"One of the bones is cracked in two places and the doctors were too scared to operate in case they made it worse.

"He'll be living with these injuries and the trauma and flashbacks for the rest of his life."

Damian said Michael had previously been in trouble with the police, but nothing justified the attack.

He said: "Who are they anyway? They're judge, jury and executioner.

"They left the front door of the house open when they shot Michael because they wanted people to know they were here, to show people what they're capable of.

"How are you supposed to stand up to that? People are terrified and they're right to be because this is what they can do."

Damian's lip trembles as he looks at his son, fearful and unsure what to do next. "Part of me feels so angry, like I could do God knows what to them if I knew who did that to my son.

"Another part knows they should be locked up, that that's the right thing.

"But the reality is, they've got us over a barrel, and we're too scared to stand up to them. It feels like the only option we've got is to say nothing and run away if we can. Because who are we, just me and my son, to stand up to the likes of them?"

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