February 9, 2009

Wrong place, wrong time.

Sometimes you can just be unlucky.
You take the wrong turn; you walk down the wrong street; you bump into the wrong person; you get into the wrong car. Through no fault of your own, you are just unlucky. Afterwards, if you survive, you try to rationalise things, ask yourself why what happened to you happened. Was it your fault? Did you look at that person the wrong way? Did you not see the warning signs? Did you not listen to your instinct? But the reality is occasionally there is no explanation bar the obvious one: you were just unlucky.
Sometimes crime is just horrifically random.
It would be comforting in a way if there was a logical explanation for every major crime committed in this country. I remember a few years ago talking to a senior Garda officer who told me something very interesting over a pint. We were chatting about the murder rate and he told me that there had been a certain number of homicides in Ireland the previous year. I can’t be more precise at the moment as some of the cases are still sub judice, but let’s say there were 55 murders that year. He asked me in how many of them did I think there was no link, of any sort, between the victim and the aggressor. By link he meant mother, husband, friend, neighbour, or even the fact that the victim was in one drugs gang and the killer was linked to another. I guessed, not unreasonably in my opinion, about 20.
The answer was actually two.
In only two cases that year had gardai been unable to find a link of any kind between the victim and the aggressor. So, in other words, there were only two real stranger murders in Ireland that year. As it happens, the victims were both women, both victims of a sex killer.
So both those women were unlucky. They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time when the killer took them. They’d never met their killer before, never even laid eyes on him. But, in each case, he saw her and went for her. They were both random murders. The killers could have chosen any woman in each case: their victims were just unlucky.
The whole idea of the randomness was brought home to me, again, while reading this truly horrible case. The poor victim was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. She was on a night out with her boyfriend, needed to use a toilet and to the local Supermac’s in Nenagh. It was just her horrendous, truly horrendous, luck that a beast was waiting for a woman in the toilets. The ordeal he subjected the woman to in the toilets is simply unimaginable.
I know people sometimes read about rapes like this, or a murder, and search for a rational explanation. Understandably, they try to attach meaning to the meaningless because they don’t want to believe that it could happen to them or their loved ones.
I’ve covered too many random murders and rapes to even think of rationalising them. The suffering of the victim in these cases is, of course, not any more valid than the suffering of people who knew their killer or know their rapist. But, for some reason, it is these random attacks that stay with me. I know they’ll stay with me forever. It must be the whole idea that, but for a shitty bit of fate, the victims’ lives would have been so completely different.
And it’s particularly bad when it comes to young people. Young kids who had so much hope in their eyes, cruelly snuffed out because of bad luck.
I think of Siobhan Hynes and Alan Higgins a lot. Even now, years after their murders, I can still see their faces as I type. Look at the photographs of them, you can see the bright light of hope in their eyes. They literally have their whole life ahead of them as they smile, innocently, at the camera. If they had lived, they’d both be mature adults by now, they’d probably be fretting about the recession, just like the rest of us. But they didn’t get a chance to grow. Both their lives were snuffed out just because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Siobhan Hynes, a beautiful young girl, met her death because – like the Nenagh rape victim – she stopped off in a fast food joint to go to the toilet. There she had the misfortune to meet one of the most evil people I’ve ever seen in a courtroom. John McDonagh was animal. He gave her a brutal death, stripping her of all dignity, before throwing her in the sea. A few days after his conviction, I tracked down a prostitute he attacked before the murder. Even then, years later, you could still see the fear in her face. She was lucky to survive him. Siobhan was unlucky. She died just a week after her 17th birthday. She’d be 27 now.
Alan Higgins, a young man who had beaten Leukaemia as a child, had a great future ahead of him. He came from a decent family in Donaghmede and wanted to be an architect. He was at the cinema with his girlfriend and had just said goodnight to her when another youngster – younger than him – robbed him of his mobile. He died after being stabbed in the struggle.
Two vibrant, optimistic, people gone. No explanation. No reason.
They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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