'He hadn't even taken out his gun . . . when one of them let off a shot and blasted him'
The raiders were waiting as the Garda car arrived in the credit union car park
The gang that shot Det Garda Adrian Donohoe in Co Louth continued with their planned robbery as he lay dead on the ground and eventually escaped with €4,000 from the Lordship Credit Union.
The raiders spoke with what were described as local accents.They appeared to have very good knowledge of the road network in the area and of the times for the movement of cash from the credit union, at Bellurgan on the Cooley Peninsula north of Dundalk.
A gang of criminals from the north Louth and south Armagh area are the chief suspects.
They raided the post office in 2011 and escaped with just over €60,000 on a Friday night as armed gardaí were about to arrive to escort the cash into a bank night safe in Dundalk.
However, the investigation into the events of last Friday night is still in the early stages and the involvement of dissident republicans is not being discounted.
Det Garda Donohoe was shot in the head and face on the right side at close range the moment he stepped out of his unmarked Garda car as he went to check on a suspicious vehicle. He and a colleague had arrived to provide an armed escort to a credit union staff member who was just about to drive her own car the short distance into Dundalk to deposit money from the credit union into a bank night safe in the town.
Informed sources said the level of violence directed at Det Garda Donohoe was completely disproportionate to the threat he posed to the gang.
“He hadn’t even taken out his gun or challenged them properly when one of them let off a shot and blasted him in the face,” said one source.
He was a front-seat passenger of the unmarked Garda car which was being driven by his colleague Det Garda Joe Ryan.
The two armed detectives pulled into the car park of the Lordship Credit Union on the Jenkinstown Road, Bellurgan, at about 9.30pm to meet the staff member and afford her an armed escort into Dundalk.
However, when they entered the car park another car that had carried four men to the scene was waiting.
Det Garda Donohoe thought this was unusual and the moment his car came to a standstill he alighted, intending to approach the men and ask them what they were doing there. However, he was fired at when he stepped out of his vehicle and fell to the ground. The raiders then moved towards the Garda car and the credit union premises. They shouted at Det Garda Ryan to stay back and pointed at least one firearm at him. They also shouted at credit union staff who were locking up the building at the time. They grabbed a bag containing money from a staff member, got back into their car and were driven from the scene.
Gardaí believe at least one of the gang remained in the vehicle as the getaway driver but that the other three men got out of the car during the attack. It was unclear how many were armed.
While Det Garda Ryan was a witness to the events he did not see the full incident and the credit union staff who saw what happened were said to be “severely traumatised”. The incident was over very quickly and it was not until the raiders had left that Det Garda Ryan established his colleague had been fatally injured.
Det Garda Donohoe lived in the townland where he was shot and his son and daughter, who are six and seven, attend school across the road from the location of the shooting.
The alarm was raised from the scene immediately and Garda vehicles in the region sped into the area in an effort to intercept the escape of the raiders in their car.
North of the Border the PSNI reacted in a similar fashion in an effort to put in place a cordon of manpower that might frustrate the escape.
The getaway vehicle is believed to have driven to the Ballymacscanlon roundabout within 2km of the crime scene, from where the raiders would have left the Cooley Peninsula and the M1 could have taken them in the direction of Dublin or north over the Border.
Gardaí believe the car was driven north of the Border.
There is now a strong cross-Border element to the investigation being led from Dundalk Garda station, where Det Garda Donohoe was based and where his wife, Caroline, also works as a member of the force.The dead man’s two brothers are also gardaí and are based in Swords, north Dublin, and in Navan, Co Meath.
Scene sealed off
The scene of the killing remained sealed off yesterday and was undergoing a forensic examination by members of the Garda Technical Bureau.
Garda search teams were cutting back undergrowth around the credit union and its car park as part of a thorough search for the murder weapon or any other items that may have been discarded.
Gardaí have also taken CCTV footage from the credit union and other commercial and residential premises in the area in the hope of piecing together the gang’s movements before and after the killing.