tragic loss | 

Private Sean Rooney 'shot dead at close range' as shooters may have gained access through rear window

Initial investigations into Lebanon attack have pointed to a cold-blooded killing

A member of the Defence Forces looks at flowers and tribute messages for Pte Sean Rooney outside Aiken Barracks in Dundalk. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins© Colin Keegan

Flowers and tribute messages outside Aiken Barracks. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins© Colin Keegan

Flowers and tribute messages outside Aiken Barracks. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins© Colin Keegan

Kevin Doyle, Eavan Murray and Laura

Private Seán Rooney was shot dead at close range after his armoured vehicle had already overturned, it is believed.

Initial investigations into the Lebanon attack which claimed the Irish peacekeeper’s life have pointed to a cold-blooded killing.

The bullet-proof UN vehicle in which four Irish troops were travelling withstood sustained gunfire – but it is suspected Pte Rooney’s killers gained access to the vehicle through the rear window or door.

The Defence Forces have deployed an aircraft to Malta where it will wait until given clearance to fly onto Beirut in order to repatriate the 23-year-old’s body in the coming days. understands that several narratives have emerged about what exactly led to his death. Pte Rooney was shot once in the head and died at the scene.

None of the other officers in the vehicle suffered gunshot wounds but Trooper Shane Kearney remains in hospital where he has undergone life saving surgery for blunt force trauma injuries.

To date neither the UN or Irish Defence Forces have been able to clarify why the SUV came off a main route and into the coastal village of Al-Aqbiyah.

Fr Derek Ryan leaving Aiken Barracks in Dundalk. Photo: David Conachy

The area is controlled by the militant group Hezbollah who have denied involvement in the killing.

A video circulated locally showed a large crowd gathered around the vehicle while another showed the vehicle apparently being shot at as it drove at speed.

It is believed the vehicle was hit by seven bullets.

Another vehicle which was also carrying Irish troops was not involved in the incident.

A spokesperson for Unifil said it appears the two vehicles got separated amid some confusion in dark conditions. Street lights are often out in Lebanon due to electricity shortages.

“We have to think that this area at night is very, very dark especially these days with the economic crisis there is not public and private electricity.

“In that spot when you enter inside the highway it is not too difficult to make a wrong turn and end up driving parallel to the main road,” Andrea Tenenti said.

“The assumption is that one of the two vehicles took a wrong turn – and that is why they ended up in this town. When they realised they were in different areas it was too late.”

Flowers and tribute messages outside Aiken Barracks. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins© Colin Keegan

Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister Najib Mikati said those responsible for the killing “will be punished”.

Special investigators from Ireland are due to arrive in Lebanon today to conduct their own investigation. A special team of support officer have also been drafted in to help the remaining Irish officers in the country cope with the tragedy.

Defence Minister Simon Coveney, who visited the Pte Rooney’s family in Dundalk yesterday, said “every avenue, through both Irish and international investigations, will be followed to get to the truth about the killing”.

Pte Rooney, who was engaged to be married, was based in Dundalk’s Aiken barracks, close to where he grew up, and his family is rooted in the military tradition of the town.

Three of his uncles are currently serving soldiers in Aiken Barracks.

His family are understood to be keen to get his remains back to Ireland before Christmas.

A family friend of Pte Rooney told the Irish Independent the young soldier had always defended others and as a child “he was like a second son to me.” Becky Shields had known soldier since he was a child after he formed a friendship with her own son Rhys.

Flowers and tribute messages outside Aiken Barracks. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins© Colin Keegan

“He was just such a lovely child.

“He was like a second son. He was always in our house, I can’t believe he’s gone.

“He was always looking out for others, always thinking of his friends.

“Seán was the type who’d stand up for someone if they were getting bullied. He was a brilliant child.

“He was kind, friendly and happy and we can’t get over the shock of it,” Ms Shields said.

“My son can’t believe it. It’s the same for all of us, no one can believe that Sean is gone - it’s just not real to us.

“Until Sean comes home we won’t believe it.”

She added: “It’s lovely reading all the nice things people are saying about Sean and that he’s being remembered for being a good person.

“But it’s very hard to think he’s gone.”

The soldier’s father had passed away a number of years ago and Pte Rooney’s mother, Natasha, was known to have a very close relationship with her son.

Fr Derek Ryan, parish priest from the Holy Family Church in Dundalk, said the local community would now wrap its arms around the mother and family, in a bid to bring her some comfort during such a terrible loss.

“You know, obviously, the family are going to be devastated,” he said

The cleric said credit also has to be given to the Defence Forces.

“They really are there every step of the way, informing the family about what’s happening.

“And so the family do feel great support from those around them.”

Natasha had been “very, very proud,” of her son, Fr Ryan said.

“He grew up here in Dundalk.

“His mother, his family are very proud of everything he’s achieved in life.”

Pte Rooney is also being remembered in Donegal where he spent much of his life.

Fr Philip Kemmy, local parish priest in Newtown Cunningham, said: “It’s horrific for any family.

“Nobody wants a knock on the door in the middle of the night to tell them the news that something has happened to their loved one.

“And the fact he was coming home next week is another devastating part of this tragedy for them.”

He described Pte Rooney as “a fine young man, a good-hearted gentleman”.

“Their lives are shattered. How do you get through something like this?

“There is no talk of getting over a loss like this. You can only get through it.

“His mother has a great group of family and friends around her here in Donegal and in Dundalk, and they will hold her.

“They have a hard road ahead of them, and whenever they get him home will be another level of grief for them again.”

Local Fianna Fáil councillor Paul Canning said: “He was a fabulous happy-go-lucky young fella who enjoyed life and was dedicated to his career in the army and was proud to wear the badge.

“He was doing everything right in his life, and it’s just terrible it has all been taken from him.”

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