Gay journalist and author Lyra McKee has died after being shot while reporting at the scene of riots that broke out in Derry, Northern Ireland, last night.
Assistant Chief Constable for District Policing Mark Hamilton said “Lyra McKee was murdered during orchestrated violence in Creggan last night.
“A single gunman fired shots in a residential area of the city and as a result wounded Ms McKee. Officers quickly administered first aid before transporting her in the back of a landrover to hospital.
“Tragically she died from her injuries. At this stage we believe her murder was carried out by a violent dissident republican. Our thoughts are very much with the family and friends of Ms McKee, who was a journalist based in Belfast.”
Speaking at a press conference in Derry this morning, Hamilton explained that police were engaged in a search operation when a riot broke out.
“We believed that violent dissident republicans were planning attacks in this city and we were looking for munitions and firearms that we believe may be about to be used across the Easter weekend,” he said.
“We were in Creggan carrying out a search operation and a public order situation developed in Fanad Drive.
“This public order situation saw over 50 petrol bombs thrown at police, two cars hijacked and set on fire and then unfortunately at 11 o’clock last night a gunman appeared and fired a number of shots towards police.”
Hamilton said the “New IRA” was most likely responsible for the incident, which he described as a “cold and callous” act and a “clearly orchestrated” attack on police. The dissident republican group is also believed to be responsible for a car bomb that exploded outside Derry’s courthouse in January.
McKee had tweeted a photo of the scene shortly before she was shot, with the caption “Derry tonight. Absolute madness.”
An Outpouring of Tributes
President Michael D Higgins has led tributes to journalist Lyra McKee, who he described as “a woman of talent and commitment, who was shot exercising her profession.”
The President said her death will bring “shock, outrage and great sadness.”
Tánaiste Simon Coveney said her death was an urgent reminder, on the 21st anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, that “the vast majority of people of this island voted overwhelmingly for peace and reconciliation and an end to violence. There can be no going back to those awful days.”
She had recently signed a two-book deal with publisher Faber & Faber, who are due to publish her book The Lost Boys next year. The publishing house has called her “a rising star of investigative journalism.”
McKee, an out gay woman, had been vocal in her support for the LGBT+ community. In a 2017 interview with The Irish Times, she said “I thought at 14 you could not be out and proud; that it was a secret that had to be kept at all costs. I believed that it was better to be dead than out and gay.
“I believed that because of all the Biblical scripts. I used to sit in my house at night and bargain with God not to send me to hell. I don’t think any child should have to go through that.”
A short story written by McKee to her younger self was the inspiration for the short film, Letter to my 14 year old self.
Northern Ireland LGBT+ organisation The Rainbow Project have also paid tribute to McKee, writing in a statement on their Facebook page “Lyra was a remarkable person, a professional and committed journalist and a hero to many in the LGBT community.
“This morning we have been reading about the huge impact Lyra had on so many within Northern Ireland’s LGBT community including supporting people in coming out and using her own coming out story to empower others to live as their most authentic selves.”
The statement goes on to describe McKee’s participation in a Strictly Come Dancing fundraising event, saying “Lyra described herself as someone with two left feet – but like everything she did in her life she gave it everything she had and our lasting memory will be of a smiling and dancing Lyra.”
A vigil will be held in her honour at 4.00pm this afternoon in St Stephen’s Green. If you’re in Derry, there is a vigil at 5pm at The Guildhall.
If you are closer to Belfast, there is a vigil taking place at Belfast City Hall today at 6pm.
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