Melissa Mahon inquest told of desperate attempts to keep her in the care of the HSE

Ronnie McManus, also known as Ronnie Dunbar, convicted of killing Sligo teenager

The coffin of murdered teenager Melissa Mahon is taken from St Anne’s Church following her funeral mass in Sligo in August 2009. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh/The Irish Times

The coffin of murdered teenager Melissa Mahon is taken from St Anne’s Church following her funeral mass in Sligo in August 2009. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh/The Irish Times

 

Desperate attempts to keep Melissa Mahon in the protective care of the HSE shortly before she was killed were described today by the garda who led the investigation into her death.

Det Supt John O’Reilly said the 14-year-old repeatedly escaped from carers in the hours before she was last seen on September 14th, 2006.

Ronnie McManus, also known as Ronnie Dunbar, is serving life for the manslaughter of Melisssa at his home in Rathbraughan Park, Sligo, following jis conviction in 2009. The inquest was delayed until today.

Det Supt O’Reilly, who was a detective inspector when he headed the inquiry, told Coroner Dr Desmond Moran at the girl’s inquest that she was put into the emergency care of the HSE at Ballytivnan, Sligo, on August 28th, 2006. She went absent but was later discovered by gardaí and sent to a foster home in Kinlough, Co Leitrim.

Shortly after arriving, she ran away to a neighbouring house. On the night of September 13th, she was taken to Manorhamilton Garda station where a care worker spent the night with her.

A few hours later, still accompanied by the care worker, Melissa went into a public bathroom in Sligo to wash and change her clothes.

She absconded again but was spotted by two care workers at about noon on September 14th. She was running towards Rathbraughan Park and they lost sight of her. This was the last time she was seen alive in public, the inquest was told.

Supt O’Reilly told the coroner and the jury of six a murder investigation was started following information made available to gardaí when they attended a house in Rathbraughan Park in January 2008. The investigation found McManus was responsible for Melissa’s death in his home at Rathbraughan Park.

Supt O’Reilly said: “He placed her body in a sleeping bag and tied it with a neck-tie.”

The inquest was told how the body was dumped into a river near Dromahair and skeletal remains were later found by Garda divers about 850 metres away in Lough Gill. The girl’s remains were identified through dental and DNA processes.

Supt O’Reilly told the inquest McManus was convicted in 2009 of unlawfully killing Melissa by strangulation on a date between September 14th and 30th, 2006. He was jailed for life for manslaughter. “He killed this innocent child,” Supt O’Reilly said.

Supt O’Reilly added that he wished to publicly acknowledge the “tremendous support” given to the lengthy and difficult investigation by the people of Sligo.

Dr Moran said it was an extremely sad case and one that for many years brought great distress to Melissa’s family and the citizens of Sligo. He said the inquest may be a milestone in the family’s grief and bring finality. “Melissa had a great future and met her death in a horrendous fashion. That justice was done may be some consolation, but it doesn’t bring back Melissa.”

A verdict of unlawful killing was returned.

Melissa’s two sisters and a male friend were at the inquest but declined to make any comment afterwards.