Lyra McKee, a young journalist and activist for LGBT rights in Northern Ireland, was killed Thursday night by a bullet fired in the direction of police officers during a riot in the northwestern city she advised people to call neither Derry nor Londonderry, but “LegenDerry.”
McKee, who was 29, was mourned in a series of vigils on Friday, including one addressed by her partner, Sara Canning, on the street where the journalist was killed while covering a riot in the city’s Creggan neighborhood.
“This cannot stand,” Canning said, choking back tears. “Lyra’s death must not be in vain because her life was a shining light in everyone else’s life, and her legacy will live on in the light that she’s left behind.”
On Saturday, the Police Service of Northern Ireland announced the arrest of two teenagers, aged 18 and 19, in connection with McKee’s death, during anti-police rioting in Creggan. The force also released surveillance camera footage of one masked man firing a handgun in her direction from behind a burning vehicle and another apparently collecting bullet casings from the pavement moments later.
Major Investigation Team detectives have arrested two men, aged 18 and 19 under the Terrorism Act, in connection with the murder of Lyra McKee in the Creggan area of Derry on Thursday, 18th April.— PSNI DC&S District (@PSNIDCSDistrict) April 20, 2019
They have been taken to Musgrave Serious Crime Suite.
Neither of the suspects had even been born when the 1998 Good Friday Agreement was signed, officially ending three decades of sectarian civil war in Northern Ireland.
Ireland’s president, Michael D. Higgins, signed a condolence book during a visit to Belfast on Friday, and told reporters that McKee’s life was “taken away by those who represent nobody on this island.”
In a sign of how grief and outrage at McKee’s death was shared across Northern Ireland’s still-divided communities, the gathering in Creggan on Friday was addressed by the leaders of both Sinn Fein, a political party representing the region’s mainly Catholic, Irish nationalist community, and the Democratic Unionist Party, which represents the mainly Protestant community that wants to remain part of the United Kingdom.
Significant moment as Alene Foster, DUP leader, visits Creggan estate in Londonderry. This is a prominent nationalist & catholic estate where unionist leaders would normally not go. This is where journalist Lyra McKee was shot dead last night. @itvnews pic.twitter.com/QhwrV783gH— Peter A Smith (@PeterAdamSmith) April 19, 2019
Those political leaders have recently been deadlocked over the collapse of a regional power-sharing executive, which requires the agreement of both communities to function, and the looming threat of Brexit, which could undermine the still-fragile peace in Northern Ireland by closing the currently open border with the Republic of Ireland.
McKee was killed while reporting on rioting that began after the local police service raided the nationalist neighborhood looking for arms stockpiled by dissident militants associated with a group calling itself the New IRA. That fringe group of Irish nationalists dreams of reigniting the armed struggle for a united Ireland, which they trace back to an uprising that began on Easter weekend in 1916. A more recent attempt to unite the island of Ireland into one republic by force was abandoned the Irish Republican Army in 1994, when a ceasefire paved the way for a peace agreement signed on the holiday of Good Friday in 1998.
At the time of her death, McKee was covering a street battle that broke out when the police were stopped in Creggan by young residents hurling, bottles, bricks, fireworks, and petrol bombs.
A grainy video clip circulating online seemed to capture, from the rioters’ perspective, the moment that two gunshots were fired in the direction of the police, and a group of bystanders and journalists who stood behind their armored vehicles, at what they took to be a safe distance. That recording is punctuated by cheers from very young-sounding voices, celebrating each shot. One of those bullets seems to have killed McKee.
McKee’s first book, “The Lost Boys,” investigating the disappearance of children in Belfast in the 1970s, is due to be published next year by Faber. Her literary agent, Will Francis, shared a passage from her proposal for that book, about growing up in North Belfast, near the road once known as the Murder Mile.
Many people have grown to dislike the use of the word ‘war’ to describe what happened here. The term ‘The Conflict’ became a more acceptable alternative, even if it made a 30-year battle sound like a lover’s tiff. It’s got the ring of a euphemism, the kind one might use to refer to a shameful family secret during a reunion lunch… I witnessed its last years, as armed campaigns died and gave way to an uneasy tension we natives of Northern Ireland have named ‘peace’, and I lived with its legacy, watching friends and family members cope with the trauma of what they could not forget.
McKee was also mourned online, where her life and work were celebrated by friends and colleagues.
My memories of Lyra will always be ones of love, profound joy, and mischievous curiosity. She had a love for the worst chicken wings she could find in Belfast, and she was in her prime, in love with her partner, her work, Derry and her life. What an immeasurable loss. #LyraMcKee pic.twitter.com/mgPo2u4HBS— Ellen Murray ????? (@ellenfromnowon) April 19, 2019
I’m broken. @LyraMcKee was one of the most brilliant minds I’ve ever had the honour of knowing. She lived unapologetically, and cared so passionately about social justice. I had the absolute honour of calling her a friend. We’ve truly lost a shining star tonight.— Hamsavani Rajeswaren (@hxmsi_) April 19, 2019
I met Lyra McKee when she was seeking support to write a book about the murder of Unionist MP Robert Bradford, killed in 1981. 38 years later, Lyra herself is murdered. Investigative journalism is essential to democracy. Like Robert's murder, this was an attack on democracy.— Mike Nesbitt (@mikenesbittni) April 19, 2019
Such terrible news about Lyra McKee the journalist killed last night. Lyra had been working with WAVE on a book about young men who had gone missing in the 70’s.She was such a caring woman, full of vitality and dedicated to her work. Such a senseless loss of such a young life.— WAVE Trauma Centre (@WAVETrauma) April 19, 2019
Some of the tributes included screenshots of McKee’s own tweets, including her coverage of the riot.
Devastating news that North Belfast's finest, @LyraMcKee, was shot dead in Derry. What a horrific loss for all those who loved her - and if you met her, you did. A bundle of energy and joy who finally won her book deals and found her great love. Her poor family. Absolute madness pic.twitter.com/tIH4rnidaL— Ciarán MacAirt (@ciaranmacairt) April 19, 2019
I'd never spoken to @LyraMcKee until yesterday.— Patricia Devlin (@trishdevlin) April 19, 2019
Out of the blue she sent me this lovely message.
I've been getting hassle over my coverage of loyalist paramilitaries for the last month.
Her message really meant a lot to me because I felt very alone.
It means more now. RIP X pic.twitter.com/wbQTlUQvhr
Many admirers shared McKee’s autobiographical “Letter to My 14-year-old Self” — about growing up gay in Northern Ireland, where homophobic bigotry has long united two socially conservative faith communities otherwise at odds.
This is part of @LyraMcKee 's legacy -a wonderful piece of writing which was turned into a short film that I've no doubt gave hope & saved lives. I was very proud to show it to 100 students in @CavanLoreto a few months ago & say I know the author https://t.co/wmOeuV4Fm1 #RIPLyra— Fidelma Carolan (@fid1dec) April 19, 2019
Others pointed to McKee’s reporting on suicide among members of her generation, who were promised the dividends of peace but still lived in a society traumatized by decades of war.
The Irish writer and editor Peter Geoghegan urged people to read McKee’s investigation of asylum-seekers forced to endure domestic abuse.
Una Mullally, an activist and Irish Times columnist, shared a moving TED talk McKee gave in 2017 in Belfast, in which she described an epiphany she had during a conversation at a mosque in Orlando, Florida after the Pulse nightclub massacre in that city. Having rejected the Catholic background that felt like a prison to her, McKee said that she realized that day that it was necessary to have “difficult conversations” with people whose religion makes it hard for them to accept anyone who is lesbian, bisexual, gay, or transgender.
Lyra McKee gave a TEDx talk on the impact religion has on LGBT people, and healing that trauma. Referring to Derry as "County LegenDerry" she said "I avoid that Derry-Londonderry thing. I hate that."— Una Mullally (@UnaMullally) April 19, 2019
We have lost a brilliant queer sister. Rest in Power.https://t.co/0PcfMDlCD1
The killing of McKee also led to a profound backlash against the nationalist militants, including condemnation from Gerry Adams, who is widely suspected to have been an operational leader of the IRA before his embrace of politics.
On this Good Friday morning & on the eve of Easter may Lyra McKee b the last to die as she did. Those involved are not the IRA. The IRA embraced peace. It is gone. No Republican can support the anti peace gangs masquerading as the IRA They should disband.— Gerry Adams (@GerryAdamsSF) April 19, 2019
The person who shot Lyra McKee was probably no older than she was, there’s a dangerous radicalisation of young people in Derry by those linked to and on the periphery of the New IRA, they should be ashamed of what they are doing to the city and its younger generation— Allison Morris (@AllisonMorris1) April 19, 2019
Hearing about Lyra McKee’s death took me back the weekly litany of misery & death from the North in the 80s & 90s. Senseless macho posturing becomes human tragedy, in an instant. She seemed like a genuinely brilliant person. What a loss RIP #LyraMcKee #lyra #NeverAgain— luke mcmanus (@lukemcmanus) April 19, 2019
Leona O’Neill, a journalist who was standing next to McKee when she was gunned own, reported on Saturday that graffiti near the scene of the crime in Creggan has been repainted, so that the slogan, “IRA Undefeated Army, Unfinished Revolution,” now reads: “IRA are done. Defeated Army. Finished Revolution.”
Updated: Saturday, April 20, 7:56 a.m.
This article was updated to report the arrest of two suspects in connection with the killing on Lyra McKee, and the release of surveillance footage that appeared to show a masked gunman firing the fatal shot.