Police in Northern Ireland are blaming dissident republicans for the death of a journalist during shooting and rioting in Derry on Thursday night. Lyra McKee, 29, who made her name writing about growing up gay in Belfast, and published investigative pieces with BuzzFeed and the Atlantic, died after being shot during a night of clashes
Police in Northern Ireland are blaming dissident republicans for the death of a journalist during shooting and rioting in Derry on Thursday night.
Lyra McKee, 29, who made her name writing about growing up gay in Belfast, and published investigative pieces with BuzzFeed and the Atlantic, died after being shot during a night of clashes in which petrol bombs were thrown and vehicles hijacked.
Witnesses said a masked gunman fired in the direction of police while journalists and members of the public stood nearby. Police called it a terrorist incident and said they had launched a murder investigation.
“A single gunman fired shots in a residential area of the city and as a result wounded Ms McKee,” the assistant chief constable, Mark Hamilton, said in a statement on Friday morning.
“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.”
Trouble flared when police entered the Creggan estate, a traditional republican stronghold, at around 9pm to search for guns and explosives which they said were being stored for planned attacks over the Easter weekend, when republicans mark the anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising.
A crowd gathered and police said up to 50 petrol bombs were thrown. Two vehicles were hijacked and set on fire. By 11pm about 100 people, including journalists had gathered on the streets when shots were fired.
Leona O’Neill, a Derry-based journalist, tweeted that she was standing beside McKee when she fell beside a police Land Rover. “I called an ambulance for her but police put her in the back of their vehicle and rushed her to hospital where she died. Just 29 years old. Sick to my stomach tonight.”
Mobile phone footage obtained by RTÉ News suggested there were at least two gunshots. The footage also showed two masked men appearing to pick up empty bullet casings. A male voice can be heard saying: “They’ve shot somebody.”
A resident, Emmet Doyle, said in a Facebook post that children were among those gathered in Fanad Drive when the shooting happened. “A masked figure stopped at the bottom of the road and fired shots up towards the Land Rovers. We all turned and ran, I stopped beside the Land Rover nearer the top of the street and a girl beside me dropped to the ground.”
The shooting was condemned by politicians, including Arlene Foster. “Heartbreaking news. A senseless act. A family has been torn apart,” the leader of the Democratic Unionist party tweeted.
Michelle O’Neill, Sinn Féin’s deputy leader, called it a senseless loss of life by “so-called dissidents” who opposed the peace process.
“The murder of this young woman is a human tragedy for her family, but it is also an attack on all the people of this community, an attack on our peace process and an attack on the Good Friday agreement. I unreservedly condemn those responsible for killing this young woman.”
Seamus Dooley, the general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, described McKee as a journalist of courage, style and integrity.
Lily Dancyger, an editor who worked with her for an article on Narratively, said the news did not feel real. “Lyra McKee was dedicated to covering the lasting trauma and violence of the Troubles. Devastating to hear she was killed tonight by that same violence.”
McKee became prominent after publishing a blogpost in 2014 called “Letter to My 14-year-old Self” in which she wrote about growing up gay in Belfast. It was turned into a short film.
In 2016 Forbes magazine named her one of the “30 under 30 in media”, citing her passion for digging into topics that others did not care about.
McKee went on to write a book, Angels With Blue Faces, and also wrote for various publications, usually long, investigative pieces. She recently signed a two-book deal with Faber & Faber.
Her last tweet on Thursday read: “Derry tonight. Absolute madness.”
The New IRA, a dissident group, has been active in Derry, Northern Ireland’s second city, including detonating a large car bomb outside the courthouse in January.
The group emerged in 2012 via a merger of several groups opposed to the peace process, including the Real IRA. It has been linked to the murder of two prison officers and several other attacks.
The US House of Representatives speaker, Nancy Pelosi, led a congressional delegation to Derry earlier on Thursday, as part of a trip to show solidarity for the peace process.