DUBLIN—Ireland was in shock Thursday after a 23-year old primary school teacher, who was out for a run on a busy canal towpath, was killed in broad daylight.
The victim, Ashling Murphy, was part of a well-known family of musicians in the Tullamore area of County Offaly, about an hour west of Dublin. She died at around 4 p.m. Wednesday.
In a tragic coincidence, the stretch of towpath she was running on, in a rural spot just outside the town with a population under 15,000, is named “Fiona’s Way” in memory of Fiona Pender, a pregnant 25-year-old woman who disappeared in the area in 1996 and has never been found.
The route has become popular with local runners and cyclists since the beginning of the pandemic.
Police made an arrest after two other female joggers on the route came across the horrific scene, and called for help as the suspect ran off.
The Irish Independent described the suspect as a “Romanian national aged in his forties” who “has an alcohol problem and has been living in the area for 20 years.”
It is understood there was no known link between the alleged attacker and victim. On Friday, however, police announced they had released the man initially detained, saying, “This male has been eliminated from Garda enquiries and is no longer a suspect.”
Murphy had recently graduated from teacher training college and, the Irish Independent said, had been at work just an hour before she was killed.
Irish police were due to visit her school, Durrow National School in Tullamore, to support staff and students Thursday. They have appealed for witnesses to come forward.
Murphy’s family are well known in the area as performers; her father is a member of a local band and Murphy had often performed alongside her sister at local traditional music festivals. A six-minute video of her and her sister playing music has been widely shared on social media in Ireland today.
The killing has prompted disbelief and anger across Ireland.
Ireland’s justice minister Helen McEntee described the murder as a “truly shocking crime” and urged anyone with information to contact authorities.
Local councilor Tony McCormack, who lives nearby, told the Irish Independent: “It’s scary. It’s horrendous to think something like that can happen in your own backyard. I feel so sorry for that young woman’s family. Imagine her getting up to go to work this morning or whatever, and then going for a run, and for that to happen to her,” he said.
The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation said, “We offer our sincere condolences to the family and friends of Ashling Murphy,” it said in a statement. “For such an appalling tragedy to befall a young woman, who only recently began her teaching career, adds to the profound sense of loss and grief felt.”
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald described the killing as “horrific.”
The murder comes just days after the country was shocked by another vicious attack on a woman in which 17-year-old Alanna Quinn Idris was left with severe facial injuries after being attacked by two men in the Dublin suburb of Ballyfermot on Dec. 30.
Her family have been told there is a 90 percent chance she will lose the sight in her right eye, which may have to be removed, the Irish Times reported.