TRIBUTES have been flooding in for Bellaghy teenager Lauren O’Neill who was shot dead on Saturday.
Family, friends, strangers and those from across the political divide have sent their condolences, sympathies and well wishes for Lauren’s sister Brenda, who remains in a critical condition at the Royal Victoria Hospital.
Since news broke of the young woman’s death, the community of Bellaghy has rallied around the O’Neill family - dad Laurence, mum Bernie, sister Tanya and young brother Dominic. At the weekend Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness visited the family home and offered his condolences and support to the family. Local representative Ian Milne, a friend of the O’Neill family, has paid tribute to the community of Bellaghy for the support extended since the tragedy.
“As a local councillor and friend of the family I wish Brenda a speedy recovery.”
“Myself, my fellow councillors and the community as a whole, are here for as long as the family need us.
“I have to pay tribute to the immediate neighbours of the O’Neill’s who came to the rescue on the day and have stayed by their side since. Also recognition has to be given to the community in Bellaghy who have rallied around the O’Neills.”
SDLP MLA for Mid-Ulster Patsy McGlone also extended his sympathies to the O’Neill family.
He said: “South Derry has been shaken by the news of this terrible shooting.”
“There is an overwhelming sense of shock amongst local people that something like this has happened so close to home in broad daylight.
“This must be extremely painful for the victims’ families and our thoughts are with them as they try to come to terms with this awful tragedy.
Ulster Unionist Assembly Member, Sandra Overend, also reacted to the tragic news.
She said: “I extend my deepest sympathies to the O’Neill family whose lives have been turned upside down in the most shocking of ways.
“I was alarmed to hear the news of the shooting in my local village at the weekend. I was inundated with calls from people within the community who were concerned about what had happened. At a time when many people were celebrating all the best of Northern Ireland has to offer in terms of tourism and sport, the incident in Bellaghy presented a haunting reminder that all is not perfect in our society.”
“It is most concerning that violence could ever be considered a solution to any problem. I commend the swift action of the PSNI who arrested a man in connection with this case within an hour of the incident, and he is appearing in court this morning.
“My thoughts are with the O’Neill family at this difficult time.”
Mid-Ulster DUP MLA Ian McCrea also offered his condolences to the Bellafghy family.
“I want to extend my sincere sympathy to the family of Lauren O’Neill and add my best wishes for the speedy recovery of her 21 year-old sister Brenda who remains in a critical condition in the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.
“This act of mindless and heartless violence has cost the life of a young woman in her prime and I trust that the judicial system will extend the fullest possible sentence upon the perpetrator of this horrific crime.”
“I also want to commend the Police for their swift action in charging a man and bringing him before the Magistrates Court in Londonderry.”
Sinn Fein councillor for the Magherafelt District, Kate McEldowney also passed her sympathy to the O’Neill family and the Bellaghy community after the tragic incident at the weekend. Lauren was a former pupil of St Mary’s Primary School, Bellaghy and St Mary’s College, Clady and had just celebrated her 18th birthday in Letterkenny with family and friends before she was killed. She was buried at yesterday following a heart-touching service at St Mary’s Church in the village.
Although critical, sister Brenda who is mum to a two year-old and ten month old, is said to be improving.
At the weekend Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness visited the family home and offered his condolences and support to the family.
Friends and family of the pretty teenager have been posting messages of on social networking sites since the tragedy unfolded.
One friend wrote on Facebook: “rip lauren, another angel in heaven”
Another said: “i can’t find words .....such a wee pet....trying to save Brenda...just pray she makes it back to her wee babes xxx” (Sic)
Messages of support to the O’Neill family have also been posted on the Mid-Ulster Mail Facebook site.
On Monday, Theresa O’Neill said: “Such a tragedy! devastating news! Thoughts and prayers with the family and Brenda and her two children! xx”
26 year-old Phelim McNally of Station Park, Toome has been remanded in custody following an appearance at Derry Magistrates Court on Monday.
He is accused of murdering Lauren, and the attempted murder of her sister Brenda on Saturday, May 19th.