night of terror  | 

Coked-up deer hunter who went on shooting rampage in Donegal jailed for eight years

The judge said the high level of drink and drugs taken by the accused before he shot up the town of Glenties as an aggravating factor

Stephen Dowling arriving at Letterkenny Circuit Court. (North West Newspix)

Stephen Maguire

A young man who went on a shooting rampage with a high-powered rifle in a rural Irish town has been jailed for a total of eight years.

Gardai told how they feared for their lives as bullets missed them by inches after drug and drink-fuelled deer-hunter Stephen Dowling went berserk.

Dowling, aged 25, let off up to nine shots in Glenties, Co Donegal during an hour-long escapade in the early hours of February 22nd, 2020.

Terrified people ran for cover as the welder marched through the town "like a soldier" shooting at Gardai, civilians, buildings and cars.

Gardai told Letterkenny Circuit Court that it was a miracle that nobody was seriously injured or killed.

Other witnesses said the night was something like the "Wild West."

Sentencing father-of-one Dowling, Judge John Aylmer said one of the most aggravating factors in the case was that Dowling used a licensed firearm to carry out his rampage.

He said that thankfully such incidents are "quite unique" in this country compared to other countries where licenses are easier to obtain.

He also referred to the high level of drink and drugs taken by the accused before he shot up the town of Glenties as an aggravating factor.

“One of the most aggravating features is that he brought cocaine with him while being in control and a licensee of a very high powered hunting rifle,” Judge Aylmer said.

“People who are licensed by the State to carry such weapons undertake a very high burden of responsibility. The vast majority are careful and responsible and incidents such as this are extremely rare.

“The accused demonstrated gross irresponsibility in allowing himself to become so intoxicated. He was completely out of control of himself and of his mind."

Dowling has pleaded to five charges of criminal damages and six charges of having possession of a weapon including a rifle and a hunting knife with intent to endanger life or cause damage to property.

Dowling, of Burren Road, Carlow, was visiting Glenties with a cousin and uncle shooting deer after seeing an advert by a farmer culling deer on his land.

Stephen Dowling arriving at Letterkenny Circuit Court. (North West Newspix)

After a successful day shooting during which Dowling shot his first red deer, the men visited several pubs in the town including Sonny's Bar, Leo's Bar, Roddy's Bar and the Highland's Hotel.

The men drank several pints of beer and whiskey and Dowling also admitted to taking a half a gramme of cocaine which he bought for €100 in his native Carlow.

Dowling became increasingly agitated and had words with customers as well as barmen in a number of the pubs.

He was refused service in the Highlands Hotel because he was aggressive despite claims that he was staying there as a guest.

The men returned to Marguerite's Bed and Breakfast where they were staying around midnight.

However, Dowling, who was staying in a room of his own, got changed back into his hunting clothing and recovered his high-powered Tikka 3X rifle from his car.

He then proceeded to go on the rampage in the town letting off up to seven shots.

The court how, despite being intoxicated earlier, Dowling stood up and marched like a soldier through the town while brandishing the high-powered rifle.

At one stage he got into the car of an employee of a local pizzeria, TJ Kalsi and was waving his rifle but then got out.

He then shot into the back windscreen of Mr Kalsi's red BMW car with the bullet shattering when it hit his passenger seat headrest, whizzing past his head and exiting the windscreen.

A brave Mr Kalsi then tracked Dowling's movements around the town.

Local man Edward Gallagher also got caught up in the crossfire and contacted Gardai with the call being replayed in evidence.

Shots can be heard as a nervous Mr Gallagher reports Dowling's movements with the Garda operator warning Mr Gallagher not to follow the shooter.

Mr Gallagher replies "Trust me, I won't be following him."

The court was told that the nearest armed Garda unit was an hour away based in Milford and had been contacted.

Before that, a number of local uniformed and unarmed Gardai had gone onto the town's Main Street in a bid to assess the situation.

The Gardai included Sgt Edward Griffin, Garda Louis Brown, Garda Edward Cassidy, Garda Kieran Cassidy, Garda Declan McBride and Garda Ronan Steede.

The Gardai devised a plan that one Garda car would come behind Dowling and another lead him out of the town and away from people.

Other Gardai were diverting traffic away from the town including a busload of teenagers who had attended a disco in Killybegs and were returning to Glenties.

All the time this was happening armed detectives Enda Jennings and Darren Carter were racing to the scene to confront the shooter.

When they arrived on the scene they took cover behind their unmarked patrol car and a marked patrol car to assess the situation.

At one stage Dowling crouched down behind a pillar and shot off two rounds, one hitting the windscreen of the patrol car and another hitting the front grill narrowing missing Gardai.

Dowling disappeared into a garden and Detective Jennings, who is trained in weapons use, realised that the shooter was not using a shotgun but an even more dangerous rifle which could kill at distance.

He managed to get onto higher ground and saw Dowling rummaging through his pockets looking for more ammunition.

He then revealed how Dowling suddenly put his hands in the armed with his rifle over his shoulder as Detective Carter approached him.

Detective Jennings tracked him from behind with both ordering him to get down on his knees.

At one stage Detective Jennings said he saw Dowling stumble and he initially thought the shooter was reaching for his gun and he thought he may have to shoot the suspect.

However, realised then he had fallen and was not trying to get his gun.

Detective Jennings told the court how he feared he may never see his family again.

He said “I knew that I was up against it and he was a man with a superior firearm. I was outgunned, the odds were stacked against me.

“But I had to do my duty to protect the public and my unarmed colleagues.

“I was sure that I would never see my family again and I thought of the suffering and hardship they would have.”

He added that he could see "the madness" in the eyes of the shooter.

The officers finally overpowered Dowling who was arrested but he claimed that it was another man in the area who was shooting, sending gardai into further fear for their lives.

Stephen Dowling (right) is escorted in to court by gardai (North West Newspix)

Amazingly Detective Jennings said he bore no ill will towards Dowling.

He added “I spent many days in the company of Stephen Dowling during the investigative process and I understand that this was an act of lunacy whilst intoxicated which I believe is uncharacteristic of the man…. I wish to have it noted that I bear no ill will towards the man and I wish him and his family well into the future.”

Officers brought Dowling to Ballyshannon Garda station where an incident room was set up by Detective Garda Allison Moore.

Initially, officers said they thought he had a bomb strapped to him because he had a 'sound moderator' strapped to his stomach.

Evidence was also given of how Dowling had shot at three local houses during his hour long rampage.

One family were standing outside their home listening to the commotion when they heard a gunshot and decided to go back inside.

The next morning they found a gunshot hole in the front of their home.

Another couple, the O'Donnells, from Church Road in the town had been out socialising with family.

When they returned they discovered their windows had been shot through and the bullets had penetrated walls and gone through a bathroom mirror.

All Gardai gave victim impact statements to court describing the night of carnage.

One Garda said it was simply a miracle that nobody was seriously hurt or killed.

Many revealed how they had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and had to take several weeks off work and were still dealing with the events of the night.

Taking to the witness stand, Dowling apologised to all his victims and said he never intended for anything to happen.

His barrister, Mr Colm Smith, SC, said his client would not have committed such acts had he not consumed both cocaine and such a large amount of alcohol.

Passing sentence Judge Aylmer said that taking into account all the aggravating factors, the charges merited an initial sentence of 14 years in prison.

Judge Aylmer said it was extremely fortuitous that nobody was seriously injured or shot dead on the night.

However, the Judge said there were a wide number of mitigating circumstances in Dowling's favour.

These included that he has no previous convictions, offered an early plea and was very apologetic for his actions to the public and Gardai.

He reduced the overall sentence to one of eight years.

He added that the issue of Dowling's gun license was one for the licensing authority.

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