A man who killed 23-year-old Ashling Murphy on a canal towpath in Co Offaly on Wednesday was disturbed during the fatal attack by another woman who arrived on the scene. Ms Murphy had been out for a run just outside Tullamore when she was fatally attacked on Wednesday afternoon.
Ms Murphy was well known in Tullamore because she worked as a primary school teacher. She was also involved in the arts and had performed in public for many years. Her family is from just outside Tullamore.
A man in his 40s was arrested on Wednesday and questioned by gardaí on Thursday. He was released on Thursday night and has been eliminated from Garda enquiries and is no longer a suspect.
An Garda Síochána said in a statement they were appealing for any information on a Falcon Storm mountain bike with straight handlebars and distinctive yellow/green front forks.
It said a postmortem had been completed and the results would not be released for operational reasons.
At a press briefing at Digby Bridge on Thursday morning, Supt Eamonn Curley appealed for witnesses who may have seen anyone behaving unusually in the area along the Grand Canal on Wednesday afternoon between 3pm and 5pm to come forward.
“Any information you have, however insignificant you feel it may be, we need to hear from you.
“No stone will be left unturned in bringing the perpetrator of this crime to justice.”
Supt Curley said that more than 50 gardaí and personnel from national specialist units, including the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, had been assigned to the investigation.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends and colleagues and her pupils who are without their teacher this morning.”
He said personnel from the family liaison unit were providing ongoing support to her family.
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee expressed her shock at the killing, urging anyone with information that could help solve the crime to come forward immediately.
“My thoughts tonight are with the family of the young woman killed in a truly shocking crime, with her friends and with her community,” she said. “Please anyone with information, come forward to An Garda Síochána. The gardaí will investigate this awful crime and ensure justice is done.”
Ms Murphy, who was in the early stages of her teaching career, played traditional music and her family is well known on the music scene in Co Offaly as her father also plays in a band. She often performed alongside her sister, including at the local Tullamore TradFest.
She played camogie for Offaly when she was younger but traditional music was her main passion and she had recently bought a set of uilleann pipes, which she planed to master in the months and years ahead. She led the school choir and was described as “the first person to arrive in the morning and last to leave in the evening”. Her father, Ray Murphy, is also a well-known musician in Co Offaly, having played with the band Best Foot Forward for many years.
Although the suspect had fled the scene of the killing before the first gardaí arrived there on Wednesday afternoon, the women who saw him at the scene were able to describe him.
He was soon apprehended in the Tullamore area and has been in custody since then. His clothing has been taken for analysis in a bid to determine if it links him to the crime.
A search was also carried out at a property linked to the man and a number of electronic devices also linked to him have been seized for analysis. Gardaí were also hopeful the postmortem might help the determine the motive for the attack.
The scene of the murder is situated on the towpath close to Offaly Rowing Club. The scene is visible from both a small vehicular bridge over the canal at Cappincur and also from the N52 main road, which is a section of dual carriageway that effectively forms part of a ring road around the outskirts of Tullamore.
A section of canal towpath of about 1km was sealed off, with members of the Garda Technical Bureau continuing their work examining the scene on Thursday. The spot where Ms Murphy was killed was covered with a forensic tent to preserve evidence as the Garda experts continued their work.
A team of divers from the Garda Water Unit were also at the scene from very early on Thursday morning and they have been carrying out a full search of the canal waters through the day.
One line of inquiry is that there was no known link between the attacker and Ms Murphy and that the fatal assault was random. However, Garda sources stressed the investigation was in its very early stages.
It is understood that as the assault was happening at about 4pm at Cappincur near Boland’s Lock, another woman arrived on the scene and disturbed the attacker, with a second woman also arriving almost immediately.
The area has become very popular with runners and walkers, especially since the pandemic began. The apparent nature of the attack, and the fact it happened during daylight in such a busy location, has caused shock in the area.
While the alarm was raised immediately and paramedics and gardaí arrived quickly, Ms Murphy was pronounced dead at the scene. The suspect was arrested shortly after the attack.
The area was sealed off and Ms Murphy’s remains were left at the scene overnight pending the arrival of a pathologist, for a preliminary examination of the body in situ early on Thursday morning.
“An incident room has been established at Tullamore Garda station under a senior investigating officer. A family liaison officer has been appointed and is liaising with the family of the deceased,” a Garda statement said.
National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) counsellors came to Durrow National School where she worked this morning.
At the school, where flags were at half mast, children were being counselled and spent the day discussing and remembering Ms Murphy and her contribution to the school and the children’s lives.
Sources said the children’s grief was “coming in waves” with some of the pupils who had themselves suffered recent bereavements being impacted most by Ms Murphy’s killing.
“They were drawing pictures about her and creating a shrine in the school for her,” said one source. “While some of them have been badly hit and they are all very sad, the are in school together talking about their teacher who made such a big impact and they are together and processing what has happened.”
Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowan, who represents Laois-Offaly, said the community was in shock. “Our locality, like the whole country is stunned and numbed,” he said. “Thoughts, prayers with her family, friends, colleagues and community.”
Minister of State with responsibility for Special Education and Inclusion Josepha Madigan said: “A young woman can’t even go for a run along a canal pathway – at four o’clock in the middle of the day – only to be attacked and murdered. Sincere sympathies to her family. We need to urgently address why we live in a country where this can happen.”