Gardaí investigating the suspected murder of a young woman in Co Offaly say “no stone will be left unturned” in bringing her killer to justice.
Ashling Murphy, a primary school teacher in Durrow National School aged in her 20s, was killed on Wednesday afternoon as she jogged along the banks of the Grand Canal at Cappincur.
A 40-year-old man has been arrested and is being detained at Tullamore Garda Station.
The normally bustling canal was quiet on Thursday, as the Irish town reacted to the killing of the young woman. Locals have spoken of a sense of devastation, as well as confusion about the “randomness” of such an attack.
Still reeling from what had unfolded hours earlier just metres from his home, local man Tommy Martin told the Irish Examiner that two females who witnessed the attack ran to his door “in a distressed state” for help at about 4pm yesterday.
“A young girl I know, she ran in and asked if she could use the phone. She said a girl was being assaulted on the canal line. She and a friend were out jogging. They had seen it happen.
“They had no phone. She made a call on the landline to the gardaí and she left.
“I’m devastated. I’m here since 1979 and I’ve never seen anything like it. I’m gutted. She [Ms Murphy] was doing everything right. Something has to be done regarding assaults on women.
“My heart goes out [to the family]. I have two daughters myself. It will take a long time to get the confidence back.”
Ms Murphy, a renowned local fiddle player described as "beautiful, kind and very talented", was killed on Fiona’s Way, a stretch of canal named after another murdered young woman, Fiona Pender, who disappeared more than 25 years ago.
Garda Superintendent Eamonn Curley told reporters on Thursday: “This area here, where the crime occurred, is popular among Tullamore residents and is widely used for recreational purposes.
“The victim of this crime is Ashling Murphy. Ashling was a schoolteacher in Durrow National School.
“Our prayers are with Ashling’s family at this time and indeed the wider community, her teaching colleagues, and the children she taught who are without their teacher today.
“Immediately following the discovery of this crime, a full-scale murder investigation was launched.”
Supt Eamonn Curley said: “At this stage, there is no information that the victim and her killer were known to each other.
“From our enquiries we have carried out, we believe this crime was committed by one male who acted alone.”
Supt Curley said gardaí retain an “open mind”, appealed to the public for assistance, and asked any witnesses to come forward.
Ms Murphy died after being attacked while she was jogging along the canal bank at Cappincur at around 4pm.
'I couldn't sleep last night'
Rose Coyle, a pensioner, is a regular walker up and down the canal. She said that the killing was “awful”.
Since the pandemic began, the canal has been a resource and a respite for the local community, she said. “You just don’t think things like that happen and there’s always so many people as well,” she said.
Declan Harvey, Fianna Fáil councillor for the area, said: “I want to extend my sympathies to Ashling’s father, mother and all her extended family.
“I am devastated. I couldn’t sleep last night thinking of it all because it is a place I go all the time. She went there jogging, she does it regularly. I am lost for words.”
Mr Harvey said it is a route that he and his family often walk.
“Tullamore is probably the safest place in the world, and after yesterday people will be nervous to go down to the canal,” he added.
“It’s a lovely area and helps clear your head. It’s a very popular route that everyone takes. People walk their dogs, people with their kids and prams.”
Mr Harvey said that Ms Murphy had brought a choir of children from her school to the town’s Christmas market.
He said women in the town are now “nervous, frightened and shocked”. “Everybody is shocked,” he said. “Everyone is in bits about it.”
The entire MIC community is heartbroken and shocked to the core to hear of the tragic and senseless killing of Ashling Murphy who graduated from MIC only three months ago. Our heartfelt sympathy go out to her family, friends, colleagues and pupils. RIP Ashling.
— Eugene Wall (@President_MIC) January 13, 2022
On Thursday morning, Eugene Wall, president of Mary Immaculate College in Limerick, tweeted that the college community was “shocked to the core” by the news of the death of the recent graduate.
Ray Larkin was among those who arrived early at the scene to pay silent respect to Ms Murphy.
He said that the town felt “numb”.
“I knew her well and I knew her family very well,” he said. “I’m absolutely devastated. I think the hardest thing I find is I walk this every morning myself.”
Like others, he said that the canal is a source of pride in the town. He said that nurses in the local hospital often finish a night shift and go for a walk along the canal.
“Now I feel the fear is gone into the community around here,” he said.
“It is so beautiful round here. Where are these people going to go now?”
My thoughts tonight are with the family of the young woman killed in a truly shocking crime, with her friends and with her community.
Please anyone with information, come forward to An Garda Síochána. The Gardai will investigate this awful crime and ensure justice is done.
— Helen McEntee TD (@HMcEntee) January 12, 2022
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee tweeted: “My thoughts tonight are with the family of the young woman killed in a truly shocking crime, with her friends and with her community.
“Please, anyone with information, come forward to An Garda Síochána. The Gardai will investigate this awful crime and ensure justice is done.”
Minister for Further Education Simon Harris said: “A young woman, simply out for a run in the afternoon and brutally killed.
“Thinking of her and her family and community tonight and their unimaginable pain. We must all act to end violence against women.
“We all have a responsibility.”
A young woman can’t even go for a run along a canal pathway- at four o’clock in the middle of the day -only to be attacked & murdered 😰Sincere sympathies to her family. We need to urgently address why we live in a country where this can happen!
— Josepha Madigan ⚖️✨ (@josephamadigan) January 12, 2022
The Office of the State Pathologist and the Garda Technical Bureau have been notified, and an incident room has been set up at Tullamore Garda Station.
Over 50 gardaí are working on the investigation.
Gardaí are appealing for information, and have asked anyone who was in the Cappincur/Canal walk area of Tullamore before 4pm on Wednesday to make contact with them.
Minister of State Josepha Madigan for Special Education and Inclusion said: “A young woman can’t even go for a run along a canal pathway – at four o’clock, in the middle of the day – only to be attacked and murdered.
“Sincere sympathies to her family. We need to urgently address why we live in a country where this can happen.”
-Additional reporting by Press Association.