Northern Ireland

Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell shot by two gunmen in front of his son

Pacemaker Press 21/12/12Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell speaks to the media.Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker.
Pacemaker Press 21/12/12Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell speaks to the media.Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker.

 The senior police officer who was shot several times in front of young people he had been coaching last night has been named as Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell.

The off-duty officer was targeted at Youth Sport Omagh at Killyclogher, near Omagh, yesterday evening.

He was training a youth football team at the time.

Assistant Chief Constable Mark McEwan told BBC News NI his condition is critical but stable.

He said the off-duty detective was putting footballs in the back of his car and was with his son, when he was shot multiple times by two gunmen.

He ran a short way before falling and being shot again.

Omagh Harriers Athletic Club and Carrickmore Ladies GAA team were also training at the facility when the shooting took place.

“That shows the absolute callous nature of that attack in a crowded space," the senior officer explained.

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The "primary focus" of the police investigation is on violent dissident republicans, Assistant Chief Constable Mark McEwan told the BBC.

"There is a primary focus as well on the New IRA," he added.

"The investigation is at an early stage, we are keeping an open mind."

Assistant Chief Constable McEwan said his colleague is a "respected figure".

"John placates himself to service both as an SIO (senior investigating officer) in supporting victims' families and bringing others to justice and as an active member of the community," he said.  

Detective Caldwell has led investigations into dissident republican terrorism and drug-related organised crime. 

Assistant Chief Constable McEwan paid tribute to a “brave” member of the public who ran towards Detective Caldwell during the attack and administered first aid.

“I would also like to thank our partners in the ambulance service. If it hadn’t been for their quick action in getting John to hospital we might have been looking at something very different this morning,” he told BBC Radio Ulster.

“But as I say, John is still in a critical condition.”

He said police recognise the “huge shock and trauma” the attack has caused in the community in Omagh, adding that he wanted to thank them for their continued patience and support.

An eyewitness described the terrifying scenes when Inspector Caldwell was shot at a sports centre in Co Tyrone.

Police confirmed this morning they have launched an attempted murder investigation.

An eyewitness told WeAreTyrone how they heard what "sounded like a series of fireworks".

“And then we realised that people were starting to shout and run away from it. And then somebody shouted that ‘he had a gun’.

“We started to run away from the track and up onto the pitches, and then we realised there was an injured party on the track.

“People began shouting: 'Can someone get an ambulance?'

“We could see that one person was down on the track, injured, And then he was getting attention from first aiders and the doctors. Then the ambulance came in about five minutes.

“There were wee kids on the pitch.

“It’s very shocking… Terrible.

“I thought we were past this.”

An Garda Síochána said it is "currently responding to an ongoing incident which took place earlier this evening in Northern Ireland".

The scene of the shooting in Omagh on Wednesday evening (Oliver McVeigh/PA)
The scene of the shooting in Omagh on Wednesday evening (Oliver McVeigh/PA)

"We are working closely in cooperation with our counterparts in the PSNI," a spokesperson said.

"An Garda Síochána has intensified patrolling in border counties."

In 2011 PSNI constable Ronan Kerr died after a bomb exploded under his car in Omagh.

The principal of Omagh High School, whose students were at the scene where DCI Caldwell was shot, has said that violence must be “pushed away from our community”.

“I can only imagine how difficult it must be for the youngsters this morning, waking up in the aftershock of what they experienced last night,” Christos Gaitatzis told BBC Radio Ulster.

“I feel that those people affected here last night were my children, were my family. We really need to get together as a community in order to make sure that these types of instances, that contain violence in the most heinous way I can describe, have to be pushed away from our community.

“(We have to) make sure that those individuals are caught and isolated out of our community to make sure that Omagh remains the town that it always has been – a town that is together, is coming together at all times, especially during difficult circumstances like this.”

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said: “We are not going back to the bad, old days."

Ms McDonald told RTÉ: "The only way for every community in Ireland now is forward and people have a perfect right to expect that they can move around their communities safely."

Ms McDonald said she hopes there will be “an all-Ireland response” to finding a motive and apprehending the perpetrators.

“Whatever the motive, if it were dissident republicanism… it is utterly unacceptable to all of us, to all political persuasions or none”.

Ulster Unionist Assembly member Tom Elliott said the officer was coaching young people when the attack took place.

"My understanding is he was coaching young people at a local sports complex and I think they were nearing the end of the session or maybe at the end of the session and there would obviously have been some of these young people around at that time and I am told that two masked gunmen walked up and shot him a number of times," Mr Elliott told BBC's Nolan Live.

PSNI officers at the scene of a shooting in the Killyclogher Road area of Omagh, where a man, a serving police officer, was injured in a shooting incident at a sports complex in Omagh on Wednesday evening. (Oliver McVeigh/PA)
PSNI officers at the scene of a shooting in the Killyclogher Road area of Omagh, where a man, a serving police officer, was injured in a shooting incident at a sports complex in Omagh on Wednesday evening. (Oliver McVeigh/PA)

"To see that happen in front of you for young people is indescribable almost, and I'm sure will have a lasting impact on them.

"At this stage clearly we're all thinking of this police officer and his immediate family and we're just hoping and praying that the officer will get better."

A joint statement from the Archbishops of Armagh also condemned last night's attack.

"As the Catholic and Protestant Archbishops of Armagh, we are united in our condemnation of this abhorrent attack on someone serving our community," the statement said.

"Regardless of who they think they are, the individuals who planned and carried out this shooting represent a deep seated criminal threat to the health and peace of our society and it is important that we do everything in our power to prevent such things from ever happening again."

Liam Kelly, chair of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, which represents rank and file officers, branded as "barbaric and cold-blooded" the gun attack.

"It's understood two gunmen were involved in the attack. The injured officer was shot a number of times whilst he coached young persons playing football," he said.

"This was a callous, cold-blooded and barbaric attempted murder on an off-duty officer.

"The officer is well known and respected in the area and plays an active role in the community. He is also well known within policing circles and is highly regarded by his colleagues.

"The people who carried out this cowardly and shocking act must be quickly identified and apprehended and I would appeal to the community to assist the police in whatever way they can.

"My thoughts, and those of all police officers, are with our colleague and his family. The police family is strong and resilient, and we'll be there for him and his family in this dreadful hour of need."

PSNI Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell (David Young/PA)
PSNI Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell (David Young/PA)

The shooting has also been condemned by politicians across the UK and Ireland.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he was appalled by the "disgraceful shooting of an off-duty police officer in Omagh".

"My thoughts are with the officer and his family," he said.

"There is no place in our society for those who seek to harm public servants protecting communities."

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar condemned the "grotesque act of attempted murder".

"Our thoughts are with the injured officer, his family, colleagues and friends at this difficult time," he said.

"I call on anyone with information about it to share it with the PSNI."

Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell speaks to the media . Picture date: Wednesday December 21, 2022.
Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell speaks to the media . Picture date: Wednesday December 21, 2022.

Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O'Neill said it was an "outrageous and shameful attack".

"My immediate thoughts are with the officer and his family," she said.

"I unreservedly condemn this reprehensible attempt to murder a police officer."

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson described the shooting as "terrible news from Omagh".

"Our heart goes out to the family of this courageous police officer and to his colleagues," he said.

"We condemn outright the cowards responsible for this.

"These terrorists have nothing to offer and they must be brought to justice.

"We stand with the PSNI."

Former Stormont justice minister Naomi Long said her thoughts were with the officer, his family, colleagues and all those affected by the shooting.

The Alliance Party leader branded the attack an "evil act of cowardice".

UUP leader Doug Beattie said: "A man is fighting for his life, supported by our society's finest, our doctors and nurses. I pray he survives.

"There will be plenty to say in the days and weeks ahead about why anyone thinks they have any authority - moral, political or otherwise - to do something as cowardly as shoot a police officer. For tonight, my thoughts are with the officer, his family, his colleagues and those who are looking after him."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said it was a "chilling reminder of the horrifying violence that criminal gangs are willing to visit on the people of Northern Ireland". 

“My thoughts and the thoughts of my SDLP colleagues are with the man and with the paramedics, doctors, nurses and police colleagues looking after him at this time," he said.

"In the face of appalling violence that has no place in modern Ireland, their bravery and selfless dedication to service is an enduring reminder that for every individual determined to tear us apart, there are hundreds more committed to defending our peace and all those who live under it."

He added: “Those behind this attack are committed to the fallacy that they are at war with the British establishment. Let me say very clearly to them that they are not. As I have said before, their fight is not with the British Government or the PSNI. Their fight is with the people of Ireland who have chosen peace. And it is a fight that they will never, never win."

West Tyrone SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan said the people of Omagh "have shown immense strength, compassion and grace in the worst of times". He added: "This is another moment to rededicate ourselves to peace and resistance against violence."