Lyra McKee, a 29-year-old journalist in Northern Ireland, was fatally shot in the head late Thursday in the city of Derry, where riots had erupted and nationalist paramilitary forces tossed petrol bombs at law enforcement. Local police have said they believe she was fired upon by a dissident Republican group known as the New IRA, according to ITV News.
Violence has recently flared in the historically troubled city, where the Bloody Sunday massacre was carried out on Jan. 30, 1972. Car bombs, stabbings, and gun violence have marked a spate of violence tied to the new militant group that has surged in recent weeks.
Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton confirmed McKee’s murder on Twitter late Thursday night. “Sadly I can confirm that following shots being fired tonight in Creggan, a 29-year-old woman has been killed. We are treating this as a terrorist incident and we have launched a murder enquiry.”
At a press conference Friday morning, Hamilton confirmed the line of investigation. “We believe this to be a terrorist act,” he said. “We believe it has been carried out by violent dissident republicans, our assessment at this time is that the New IRA are most likely to be the ones behind this and that forms our primary line of inquiry.”
Hamilton added, “But not only is it a murder of a young woman, it is an attack again on the people of this city. I stood here in January and we talked about the bomb and the act of violence against this city, and yet again we see another act of violence in this city which has had horrendous consequences and which will affect people for many, many years.
“The bringing of a firearm out and firing it down a street in a residential area where they knew lots of people were standing about is a calculated and callous act and can only be designed to hurt and kill people.”
The official appealed for calm ahead of Easter weekend. “I would appeal to people who are intent on violence to draw back, I would appeal to people with influence to use your influence and make sure this is peaceful weekend. Not only this weekend but going forward in this city.”
McKee tweeted from the streets shortly before she was fatally shot. “Derry tonight,” she wrote over a photo of smoke rising and anti-bomb vehicles in front of her. “Absolute madness.”
British Prime Minister Theresa May condemned the murder on Twitter early Friday. “The death of Lyra McKee in last night’s suspected terrorist incident in Londonderry is shocking and truly senseless,” she tweeted from the official Downing Street account. “My deepest condolences go to her family, friends and colleagues. She was a journalist who died doing her job with great courage.”
McKee’s fellow journalist Leona O’Neill wrote on Twitter that she had witnessed the murder. “I was standing beside this young woman when she fell beside a police Land Rover tonight in Creggan,” O’Neill tweeted. “I called an ambulance for her, but police put her in the back of their vehicle and rushed her to hospital where she died. Just 29 years old. Sick to my stomach tonight.”
Rev. Joe Gormley, a Catholic priest based in the Creggan area who knew McKee personally, told the Belfast Telegraph that he had been at the hospital to give her last rites. “It’s just dreadful to see Lyra’s partner and family heartbroken this morning,” he said. “Last night I was called over to the hospital and they just thought it was someone else, they thought it had to be somebody else, that it wasn’t Lyra, but unfortunately it was.”
McKee was an accomplished investigative journalist who had just signed a two-book publishing deal with Faber & Faber. Her work dissecting the complicated political situation in Northern Ireland appeared in The Atlantic, Mosaic Science, and BuzzFeed.
She was named by Forbes in 2016 as one of the top “30 Under 30 in Media.” At a TED talk in 2017, she talked about tolerance, the targeting of gay people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, and the struggles she has faced.
Her “Letter to My 14-Year-Old Self” about growing up gay in Belfast was made into a short film in 2019. In it, she lamented over a local pastor saying two lesbians living together did not make a family. She poignantly wrote, “Life is so hard right now. Every day, you wake up wondering who else will find out your secret and hate you. It won’t always be like this. It’s going to get better.”