Lyra McKee, a freelance writer and journalist who wrote about the legacy of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, was shot dead last night in what police described as a “terrorist incident”.
The 29-year-old, who was also an editor of US-based media trade industry website Mediagazer, was reporting on rioting in the Creggan area of Derry when indiscriminate shots were fired.
Shortly before her death, she tweeted a picture of the scene with the words: “Derry tonight. Absolute madness.”
Police Service of Northern Ireland officers were carrying out a search operation aimed at disrupting dissident republicans ahead of this weekend’s commemoration of Irish independence.
More than 50 petrol bombs were subsequently thrown at officers and two cars were hijacked and set on fire.
During the unrest a gunman fired a number of shots at police, Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said.
“Lyra McKee was murdered during orchestrated violence in Creggan last night,” he said.
“A single gunman fired shots in a residential area of the city and as a result wounded Ms McKee. Officers quickly administered first aid before transporting her in the back of a Land Rover to hospital. Tragically she died from her injuries.
“At this stage we believe her murder was carried out by a violent dissident republican. Our thoughts are very much with the family and friends of Ms McKee, who was a journalist based in Belfast.
“This murder demonstrates all too starkly that when terrorists bring violence and guns into the community, members of the public are placed in severe danger. It is abundantly clear that they do not care who they harm.”
Hamilton said around 100 members of the public and the media were gathered in the area by about 11pm when a number of shots were fired.
Police said the New IRA, an amalgam of a series of armed groups opposed to the peace process, was the “most likely” group behind the shooting.
The group recently claimed responsibility for a number of parcel bombs sent around the UK, including to London’s Heathrow Airport.
McKee’s book about the Troubles, The Lost Boys, is due to be published by Faber next year and she has written for publications including the Belfast Telegraph, BuzzFeed, The Atlantic, and Private Eye.
The journalist was featured in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list for the media in 2016 and was named Sky News Young Journalist of the Year in 2006.
Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, said the killing of a journalist like this was “deeply shocking”.
“To wake up to this news on Good Friday morning is disturbing and profoundly saddening,” she said.
“A young, vibrant life has been destroyed in a senseless act of violence. Our thoughts are with her partner, family and many friends and colleagues. A bright light has been quenched and that plunges all of us in to darkness.
“Alongside her journalistic work Lyra had a promising future as a novelist and in a relatively short career was recognised as a bright, intelligent reporter.”
NUJ assistant general secretary Seamus Dooley added: “Lyra McKee was a journalist of courage, style and integrity. She was a woman of great commitment and passion.
“I have no doubt that it was that commitment which led to her presence on the streets of the Creggan last night, observing a riot situation in the city. She had tweeted just minutes before being hit by a bullet. She had also spoken to a journalist colleague from the riot scene.”
Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley said she was “deeply shocked and saddened” by the incident.
“My thoughts and condolences are with her family at this time. Those responsible for last night’s violence have nothing to offer anyone in Northern Ireland.
“Their intolerable actions are rejected by the overwhelming majority of people who want to build a peaceful and more prosperous future for everyone in Northern Ireland.”
Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: “The Government condemns in the strongest possible terms the fatal shooting of journalist and writer Lyra McKee in Derry.
“We are all full of sadness after last night’s events. We cannot allow those who want to propagate violence, fear and hate to drag us back to the past.
“I would like to express my sincere condolences to Lyra’s family, her partner Sara and her friends. Our solidarity also goes out to the people of Derry and to the entire journalism community.”
Picture: TedX Talks/Youtube