'deeply distressed' | 

Fears of reprisal attack after dad-of-four is shot dead in ‘senseless’ attack

‘There are several lines of inquiry ongoing at the minute and I’m working to establish those lines of inquiry’

A murder investigation is underway Shane Whitla (inset) was found with gunshot wounds in Lord Lurgan park.

Police at the scene in Lord Lurgan Park last night (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)© Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Police at the scene in Lord Lurgan Park last night (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)© Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Police remain at the scene on Friday of a sudden death of a man in Lord Lurgan Park within the vicinity of Derry Street, Lurgan. Pic Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker

Shane Whitla (39)

Niamh Campbell and Ralph HewittSunday World

There are fears the murder of Shane Whitla in Lurgan could lead to a reprisal attack in the Co Armagh town.

Mr Whitla (39), who was known to police, was shot a number of times – including once in the back – in Lord Lurgan Park on Thursday night.

A 29-year-old man arrested as part of the investigation into the murder, remained in police custody last night after his arrest on Thursday.

The PSNI revealed on Friday a police officer responding to the incident was injured but would not provide details of their injuries.

In a press conference at Lurgan Police Station, chief investigating officer Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell also said police are not investigating any links between the death of Mr Whitla and the murder of Natalie McNally (32), who was stabbed to death in her Lurgan home in December — less than two miles from Lord Lurgan Park.

When asked if there were any paramilitary or organised crime links to the father of four’s murder, Mr Caldwell said: “There are several lines of inquiry ongoing at the minute and I’m working to establish those lines of inquiry.”

Police remain at the scene on Friday of a sudden death of a man in Lord Lurgan Park within the vicinity of Derry Street, Lurgan. Pic Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker

On Friday morning, police had cordoned off a property and black Honda Civic on Lake Street — close to the scene of the gun attack — as part of their investigation.

The charity Crimestoppers is also offering a £20,000 reward to anyone who provides information which will lead to the arrest and subsequent conviction of anyone involved in the killing.

Outlining the details of the injured officer, Superintendent Kellie McMillan said: “One officer did sustain injuries when responding to the initial call and we’re making sure we’re looking after them as much as we can and they’re getting the help they need. I’m not going to go into detail out of respect for the officer and their family at this moment in time.

“That officer was one of the first responders on the scene but I’d rather not go into any further detail at the moment.”

Police are continuing to work on establishing the movements of Mr Whitla before his death.

At around 8.15pm on Thursday, police officers, along with the NI Ambulance Service, attended Lord Lurgan Park, following a report of an unresponsive man lying in the park.

The victim, Mr Whitla, was pronounced dead at the scene before forensic officers and a dog unit searched the area.

During Friday’s press conference, Mr Caldwell said: “Our investigation is at a very early stage and we are working to establish the circumstances of Shane Whitla’s brutal murder.

“Shane leaves loved ones behind, including four children. There’s no possible justification for this murder.

“Shane was shot a number of times, including once in the back. No one should protect the person responsible

“I am aware of speculation in the local community that this may be linked to the murder of Natalie McNally in Lurgan before Christmas. This is not the case.

“We’re extremely grateful to local people for their ongoing support, and I’m keen to reiterate our appeal for anyone with information to come forward.

“Were you in the Lord Lurgan Park area of the town yesterday evening? Did you see the attack, or see or hear anything untoward? Please contact us with any information, no matter how insignificant it may seem, on 101.”

Ms McMillan described Mr Whitla’s brutal killing as “senseless”. “Those responsible had no thought whatsoever for the victim, his family or for the people of Lurgan,” she said. “I condemn their actions in the strongest possible terms.

“I want to reassure the community of Lurgan that police will be conducting high visibility patrolling in the area. Local residents will continue to see an increase in the visible police presence

"People will see our officers and staff in and around the town. Should anyone have any concerns or want to ask for help or advice, please speak to us. We want to help.”

SDLP councillor Ciaran Toman said the community in Lurgan is “deeply concerned” following Mr Whitla’s murder.

“People in the Lurgan area are shocked and deeply distressed that another senseless act of violence has taken place within our community,” he said.

“This has been a very difficult time for people in this area, people are struggling to come to terms with recent events and it’s heartbreaking that another life has been lost.”

He added: “The use of a firearm in this incident is extremely concerning, there is no place for weapons on our streets and I would ask anyone who has any information about what happened to come forward to police as soon as possible to help them with their investigation so that this weapon can be taken out of circulation and those behind this crime can be apprehended.”

Sinn Fein councillor Keith Haughian also passed on his condolences to the family of Mr Whitla. “My thoughts are with Shane’s family and friends at this time,” he stated.

“There is no place for guns in our society and I would urge anyone with information to contact the police immediately.”

Online tributes began pouring in for Mr Whitla on Friday, with one friend writing that they were “shocked to the core” by his murder, adding that he is “with his daddy and sister now”, who are also deceased.

Another said they “can’t believe it” and described Mr Whitla as “one of the best”.


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