Man took own life after killing his two daughters, inquest told


A MAN who took his own life by crashing his car into a ditch after earlier killing his two daughters, had been suffering from mental illness and depression for some time, an inquest heard yesterday.

John Butler (43) died when he crashed his car into a ditch at Ballycotton, Co Cork, less than two hours after he had strangled his daughter Zoe (6) and suffocated his daughter Ella (2) at the family home at Ballybraher, Ballycotton, on November 16th, 2010.

Yesterday Mr Butler’s widow Una Butler told the inquest how she left for work at 7.50am that day and tried ringing and texting her husband at about 8.50am. When she got no reply she asked relatives to check on him to see if he had dropped Zoe to school.

She became so concerned she left work to return home. She had reached Ballymaloe when she was stopped by a garda who said her husband had possibly been killed in a car crash, but he had no information on her daughters.

“Then my brother Tadhg and his wife Brenda came along and told me that he was after killing the girls. I couldn’t believe it,” said Ms Butler, who later went to the family home where two of her sisters, her sister-in-law and a friend had made the grim discovery.

Ann O’Riordan, who used to mind Zoe and Ella, was one of four women who went to the Butler home after hearing at about 10am that Mr Butler had been involved in a horrific crash on the Bog Road and after discovering he had not dropped Zoe off at school.

She told of how they broke a back door window to gain entry, and of how she found Ella lying on the floor in the sitting room and Zoe curled up on a couch, both still wearing their pyjamas. “I started screaming they were dead – it was terrible,” she said.

The inquest heard evidence of how Mr Butler filled a five-gallon drum with €20 worth of petrol at a garage in Shanagarry at about 9.26am and put it in the front passenger area of his red Toyota Yaris before driving off at speed.

Richard Guerin told how he was just about to emerge on to a T-junction on the main Bog Road at Ballybraher when he saw Mr Butler’s car cross in front of him at speed with smoke visible in the front passenger’s area before smashing into a ditch and seconds later exploding in flames.

Garda forensic crash investigator Sgt Jim Delea said it was clear from the marks on the road Mr Butler accelerated into the ditch, while arson investigator Garda Kevin Sheehan said it was clear the fire started in the passenger area where the petrol was being carried.

State Pathologist Prof Marie Cassidy said she could find no traces of alcohol, drugs or prescription drugs in her autopsy on Mr Butler’s remains, and that he died from inhalation of smoke and fire gases as well as extensive burns.

Prof Cassidy said Ella died from asphyxia due to smothering or suffocation with a soft object such as a hand, while Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster said Zoe died from asphyxia due to manual strangulation. Both would have lost consciousness quickly.

Det Insp Brian Goulding said gardaí had investigated the matter fully: “It is clear that John Butler is responsible for taking his own life and the lives of his two daughters at Ballybraher, Ballycotton. We can only speculate as to why.”

The jury returned verdicts that Mr Butler died from inhaling smoke and fire gases and extensive burns that were self-inflicted, and that Zoe died due to manual strangulation by a known person and that Ella died due to smothering by a known person.

Coroner for south Cork Frank O’Connell said he could find no words to adequately express his condolences to Ms Butler and her family, including her in-laws, on their terrible loss. Insp Eoin Healy conveyed the sympathies of the Garda to the bereaved.

'Zoe and Ella meant the world to me . . . I am now only left with the memories'

Statement of Una Butler

My girls Zoe and Ella meant the world to me. They were my life and I am very proud of them. They brought so much joy to our family.

Zoe was 6. She loved school, baking brown bread and eating it raw, she was very sporty, loved doing cartwheels and judo, music, dancing and loved reading books. She loved Ella and was never jealous of her, even from the start.

Ella was 2. She was very mischievous, loved dancing, jewellery, pulling Zoe’s hair, Peppa Pig and having books read to her. She looked up to Zoe so much and was always trying to copy her.

My life is changed for ever. I miss them so much. I hope that nobody will ever have to go through what I am now going through.

On the 16th of November last, I left my home for work as I normally did. I left Zoe and Ella in the care of their father John.

For reasons that I will never understand, John took the lives of our precious daughters, Zoe and Ella. At this time of unspeakable anguish in my life, it is very difficult for me to make sense of the events that occurred. There will always be pieces of the jigsaw missing.

John, who suffered from depression on and off over a number of years, was under the care of Mental Health Services from November 2009 until he was discharged from their care in August 2010, some three months before this tragedy happened.

It never would have occurred to me that John was capable of acting out in the manner in which he did.

Living with someone with mental illness is extremely difficult. Whereas issues such as patient confidentiality are important, I feel spouses/partners should be involved with their treatment and that the first concern should be the welfare of children.

I never imagined nor was I ever alerted that such a horrendous event could have happened. My two beautiful daughters have had their lives cut short as a direct result of John’s mental illness.

I have been supported and helped greatly by my family, friends, work colleagues and the gardaí. It was a shocking event for everyone and I thank them for their support which has enabled me to continue.

It is so sad that my beautiful girls have been taken from me. John was a good person and he loved Zoe and Ella but I am now only left with the memories of our beautiful daughters, Zoe and Ella, who loved life and brought so much joy.

They are with me forever and are keeping me strong.