‘Brave to the end’

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HUNDREDS of mourners paid their last respects to a Bellaghy teenager described as ‘brave, gentle and self sacrificing’ at a heart touching service in her home village yesterday.

18 year-old Lauren O’Neill was shot dead on Saturday morning as she tried to save her sister Brenda from a gunman who entered her sibling’s William Court home.

Mum-of-two Brenda (21) remained in a critical condition in hospital yesterday as her little sister was laid to rest at St Mary’s Church in the village. In an emotional tribute to the pretty teenager, Bellaghy parish priest Andrew Dolan told how Lauren ‘sacrificed’ her life to save that of her sister. The priest also described how ‘shock. horror and disbelief’ has enveloped the small South Derry village since the tragedy, and how the community are struggling to find the answers as to how such an “unspeakable” event could have unfolded.

Speaking yesterday at Lauren’s funeral mass, Father Dolan said: “What began as a typical quiet Saturday morning around these parts was to have its peace shattered.

“What began as a beautiful and joyful day for our parish with the celebration of First Holy Communion and the Baptism of three siblings of those in the P4 class was all to be overtaken by such a tragic and unspeakable event; something that was to cast such a dark cloud over our community.

“We are experiencing something that you only ever hear of in the news and tell yourself that sort of thing never happens in that place we call home.”

“Why Oh Why?? keeps crossing our lips; and we can never reach in deeply enough to answer that one. We ask ourselves too ‘What enters the heart and soul of any human being that gives birth to such a terrible deed?’”

Speaking about the man accused of murdering Lauren, 26 year-old Phelim McNally, Father Dolan said: “To my way of thinking two deaths have taken place. “Somehow the death of his own humanity has come about in Phelim McNally which in turn led him to attack his former partner Brenda; and whose life as events unfolded was to be spared because of the bravery and self sacrificing of her sister Lauren who paid the ultimate price - a truly Christian act.”

Father Dolan also touched upon the closeness of the O’Neill family in his homily to the South Derry teenager, particularly that of Lauren and Brenda.

“The girls’ closeness has been alluded to by many in recent days; it was to be that same closeness to the very point of death,” he said.

“Today of course we are just so thankful that Brenda and her little children Emhier and Eunan were spared. They will definitely need our support and prayers for some time to come. The events have been well and widely reported and it doesn‘t need further elaboration from me.”

“Our first call today is to pray for Lauren and commend her gentle soul to God to give thanks for the life of a daughter, sister, a grandchild and a popular friend we pray in support of a family in the darkness of their grief; four generations of them.”

The Bellaghy cleric also paid tribute on behalf of the family of those who have surrounded them with love, hope, encouragement, support and sympathy in recent days, He added that the family, mum Bernie, dad Laurence, brother Dominic and sisters Tanya and Brenda would need this for some time to come.

Father Dolan concluded: “My simple prayer today is that when the pain of this awful and unspeakable tragedy has numbed a little that it will give way to the light of precious memories and better days in your lives.

“Above all it is a stark reminder that when we speak to our young people that we do not fall into the trap of saying what you are going to be in the future. The life we are given is to be lived fully in the present and what the future holds is what God has in store for each of us.”

“No doubt in time to come we will be tempted to think of what would Lauren look like now and all the other things we could hope for her. Today we commend her to God where she will be ever young in his presence.”