Natalie McNally’s parents: ‘I just keep thinking, did she plead for her life or her baby’s life’

Lurgan woman’s parents speak of their devastation at losing their only daughter, and hope for information leading to the killer’s capture

Kicking off her boots in front of a roaring fire to watch the World Cup final with her dad, Natalie McNally was in no rush to get home.

Within hours of bundling her dog River into the car along with rolls of Christmas wrapping paper and waving goodbye, the 32-year-old pregnant woman was strangled and stabbed to death in her Lurgan apartment a short distance away.

The murder has dominated news headlines in the North over the past three weeks; the killer is still at large and grainy CCTV image of the chief suspect casually walking away from Ms McNally’s home — in a quiet residential development overlooking a golf club — has been the focus of renewed police appeals.

The brutality of the death has also sparked a wider debate about continuing violence against women — Northern Ireland has one of the highest femicide rates in western Europe — and the absence of a strategy to tackle it amid Stormont’s collapse.


Petting his daughter’s beloved German Shepherd on the sofa where they last sat together, Noel McNally points to hundreds of sympathy cards dotted around the house and remarks on “the good in people”.

“Sometimes I think it’s as if we’re looking from the outside in. It’s like a dream. It’s like it’s happened to some other family and you’re just watching from the outside,” he tells The Irish Times.

“People have come in their droves, even on Christmas Day they’ve left their families to come here. There’s been people we don’t even know who suffered similar tragedies that’s visited.

“Some fellow from Oklahoma who is originally from Northern Ireland rang me the other day offering his condolences.

“I just hope she died instantly. I know she was very petite but she would have stood up for herself. You keep asking: Why? Why would anyone want to come into her home and do that?”

Mr McNally and his son Declan identified her body, which lay for 24 hours before it was discovered by a friend on December 19th.

The “animal-mad” marketing executive, who loved jigsaws, Everton FC and Antrim GAA, read three books “on the go” and campaigned fervently for equality, was “almost unrecognisable” due to the extent of her facial injuries.

“It was horrific. He didn’t just walk in, pull a knife and there was some sort of accident. He gave her an awful death,” Mr McNally adds.

“There were broken bones in her neck and her face.

“We just try to remember how beautiful she was.”

His wife Bernie sits close beside him and there are times the couple finish each other’s sentences.

Mrs McNally has not left the house since police officers woke them exactly three weeks ago at 4.30am on Tuesday, December 20th, telling them their daughter’s body had been found.

A young female uniformed officer cried as she delivered the news.

Surrounded by photographs of her only daughter and three brothers, from christenings to school formals to university graduations, the quietly spoken woman says they are doing media interviews in the hope of “getting some bit of information”.

“If anyone knew me, I’d be the last person that would be in front of a TV camera; we’re just a normal family. But we’re trying to keep the story out there. We’re hoping that the killer had family or friends that know something and they’ll come forward,” she adds.

“There was blunt force trauma. It wasn’t as if someone punched her and she fell and hit her head. It was a frenzied attack – and all the size of her.”

Detectives last week said they believed Ms McNally knew her killer. There were no signs of forced entry to her home.

Scrolling through the pictures she sent of her pet cats and a vintage chair they recycled together, Mrs McNally says her last memory of her 15-week pregnant daughter is of one of laughter after handing over a Christmas card:

“She was going out the door and said, ‘Mummy, I’ll see you Monday or Tuesday’.

“I was always giving her things, as mothers do, so I handed her lots of wrapping paper and a wee floral arrangement I’d made.

“She went with her arms full and said to River, ‘Come on, we’re going home to the cats’.

“We were very, very close. She was my best friend. We did everything, shopping, making crafts…she had her own wee life too and was fiercely independent.

“She was over the moon about being pregnant, we all were. It was our first grandchild and she was due to go for a scan on the Tuesday.”

Weeping, she adds: “I just keep thinking, did she plead for her life or her baby’s life.”

Two people have been arrested for Ms McNally’s murder but no one has been charged.

Last Thursday, politicians were among those attending a silent vigil at Stormont for the Lurgan woman and other victims of gender-based violence.

Organised by first minister designate Michelle O’Neill, the event was held after a childhood friend of Ms McNally posted an open letter to Ms O’Neill and DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson, criticising them for failing to acknowledge her death in the same way as other high-profile murders, including Aisling Murphy, the 23-year-old Co Offaly teacher killed while out jogging a year ago.

An hour before the vigil, also attended by the three McNally brothers — Declan, Brendan and Niall — as well as relatives of other murder victims, the detective leading the investigation told a press conference that there was nothing that suggested Ms McNally’s killer was a risk to other women.

It was a “targeted attack”, according to PSNI detective chief inspector Neil McGuinness.

The murder weapon, a kitchen knife taken from her own home, had been recovered.

But five days on from police assurances, people on Lurgan’s Market Street say many women in the town remain fearful for their safety.

“It’s horrific, everyone feels dreadful,” say pensioner Anne Baxter.

“My three daughters are from aged 50 downwards. I’ve told them, ‘don’t be opening your doors at night.’

“You just say to yourself: What is this world coming to? What’s happening? The fact there is actually someone walking about who has done this.

“He has either a mother or father or wife somewhere – someone knows something and they’re not coming forward. I always felt Lurgan was a safe place; now I just don’t know.”

Grainne Kearney has lived in Lurgan for 30 years and has two daughters in their 20s.

“It’s the sort of town where people would come in and out and wouldn’t lock their doors in the same way that people would do as vigilantly in Belfast. I’m locking my doors now.

“I think everyone has been quite shocked by it and is eager to have the person found and convicted. There’s an edge to the town.”

Oeedpt Vadymasly moved to Northern Ireland from Lithuania 10 years ago and works in a local nightclub.

“It’s scary,” the 29-year-old mother-of-one says.

“Since the murder I never walk home alone from the nightclub; before I always did.”

Back in the McNally house, mobile phones are ringing constantly.

“Every time my phone rings, I hope it’s the police to tell me they’ve caught somebody,” says Mr McNally.

“It’ll not bring Natalie back but it’s all we’ve got. There’s nothing else in our lives. Every day I get up and I just hope I’m going to get the call to say: ‘We’ve got this fella. He’s admitted it.’ I know the chances of that are very slim.

“If one good thing comes out of Natalie’s death, you would hope it might help change attitudes on violence towards women and girls.”

Mrs McNally is carrying boxes containing hundreds of photographs and sets them in front of the fireplace as she searches to show me one with all her animals.

It is then she remembers that it was placed in her daughter’s closed coffin, along with the baby bibs she had bought her.

She says the killer has robbed them of their future.

“I just keep thinking of her on her last day with us. She had her boots off, they were at the fire; she was in no hurry to get off. She was so happy and looking forward to Christmas. She was really content.”