Lyra McKee: Murdered Belfast journalist 'committed to truth'

By Laura McDaid

Lyra McKeeImage source, AFP/Jess Lowe
Image caption,
Lyra McKee was a "hero" to the LGBT community in Northern Ireland, says a friend

"Kid, it's gonna be okay... it's going to get better.

"You're going to join a scheme that trains people your age to be journalists... for the first time in your life you'll feel like you're good at something. You'll have found your calling."

Those were the words of Lyra McKee, written for the short film Letter to My 14-Year-Old Self.

On Thursday night in Londonderry, Ms McKee was shot dead during rioting that police are treating as a "terrorist incident".

Media caption,
People sign a book of condolence in the Guildhall in Derry

On Friday morning, friends, colleagues and many others paid tribute to a "rising star" in the world of journalism.

Her close friend Ann Travers, whose sister was shot dead by IRA gunmen in 1984, said Ms McKee was a journalist "who liked to help others, to try to give answers to people and empower people".

Image source, Ann Travers
Image caption,
Ann Travers said Lyra McKee was a journalist who "wanted to empower people"

"I used to call her Sherlock Holmes," she said. "Once she got hold of something she really didn't give up.

"Lyra did not deserve this to happen to her and her family don't deserve any of this."

'Believed in tolerance'

Ms McKee had written for many publications, including Buzzfeed, Private Eye, the Atlantic and Mosaic Science.

Recently, she worked for the California-based news site Mediagazer, a trade publication covering the media industry.

She was named Sky News young journalist of the year in 2006 and Forbes Magazine named her as one of their 30 under 30 in media in Europe in 2016.

The 29-year-old north Belfast woman had signed a two-book deal with the publisher Faber and Faber, with her forthcoming book The Lost Boys due out in 2020.

Image source, PA
Image caption,
Police are blaming dissident republicans for the rioting on Thursday night

According to those who knew her best, the gay rights advocate was someone who "believed passionately in social and religious tolerance".

Eva Grosman of the Centre for Democracy and Peace Building considered Ms McKee "a good friend".

Ms Grosman told BBC News NI on Friday that she and others who knew her best felt "numb with grief".

"Life was just getting good for Lyra," she said.

"She had fallen in love, she was so happy up in Derry - things were starting to go really well."

'Intelligent and witty'

Ms Grosman had invited Lyra to present a TED talk at Stormont in 2017 - she used the opportunity to reflect on the 2016 shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando in Florida, in which 49 people were killed.

"It's so poignant when I think back on what she said now," said Ms Grosman.

"She was talking about intolerance and hate and violence and how senseless it all is, how destructive.

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"And she had the whole audience on their feet at the end of it - it was such a moving speech and it's so sad to remember her words this morning in light of what has happened... sickening."

Ciarán Ó Maoláin, the Belfast secretary of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), who knew Ms McKee well, described her as "intelligent, determined and very witty".

"Those whom she trusted were privileged to be taken into her confidence," he added.

"There is no comfort for us in knowing that her killing, unlike that of Martin O'Hagan or Veronica Guerin, was not targeted.

"Like them, Lyra was killed because she was a journalist.

"It would be wrong to say that she was fearless - she was too intelligent for that.

"She was, however, brave enough to take calculated risks in pursuit of a story and before the shot was fired she may have felt safest in the lee of an armoured police vehicle."

Ms McKee's most recent story, published on Sunday, was an analysis piece on the rising rate of young suicides since the ceasefires and the Good Friday Agreement.

Image caption,
Lyra McKee gave a TED talk in 2017 about the Orlando gay nightclub shootings the previous year

In it, she wrote: "People are no longer dying at the hands of paramilitaries, but they're still dying, too young and too soon. The culprit now is suicide."

On Valentine's Day, she had paid tribute to the "love of my life" Sara (Canning) in an article for the Belfast Telegraph.

'Commitment to truth'

Speaking about the moments leading to her death, Mr Ó Maoláin said: "Having heard the rioting, Lyra went out with Sara to cover events and had only just finished discussing the situation with a colleague in Belfast when she was shot.

"Sara was beside her at the time and later when she died in Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry."

Image source, PA
Image caption,
Journalist Veronica Guerin was shot dead in 1996 while driving her car

John O'Doherty, the director of the Rainbow Project, described her as "a hero to many in the LGBT community".

"Lyra was a remarkable person," he said.

"We have been reading about the huge impact Lyra had on so many within Northern Ireland's LGBT community, including supporting people in coming out and using her own coming out story to empower others to live as their most authentic selves.

"Lyra has volunteered and fundraised for us, including at a Strictly Come Dancing fundraising event.

"Lyra described herself as someone with two left feet but like everything she did in her life, she gave it everything she had and our lasting memory will be of a smiling and dancing Lyra."

Amnesty International's Patrick Corrigan tweeted that Ms McKee's "commitment to truth was absolute".

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

The writer Ruth Dudley-Edwards described Ms McKee as a "huge talent" who cared deeply about her mother, who had a disability.

"You sat with Lyra for an evening and she had to stop every half an hour to check that her mother was OK," she said.

"One of the things that was so remarkable about her in Northern Ireland was she was completely non-tribal.

"She came from what was a republican estate but she had no time for any of that.

"She had friends who were republicans, she had friends who were loyalists, she had friends from all over the place.

"The only thing she required of you was that you were decent."

'Be glad you lived'

Ms Dudley-Edwards said that Ms McKee was just beginning to feel successful in her career after years of "struggle".

"It was tough and she was poor and she was crowdfunding a book… and suddenly she was doing brilliantly."

Ms McKee ended her Belfast Telegraph article on suicide last week with an emotional appeal to those experiencing mental health problems.

"There's a saying within the LGBT community: It gets better," she wrote.

"It's what we tell LGBT youths and others who are currently journeying through hell.

"Keep going, we say, because one day you'll wake up and be glad that you lived.

"That piece of advice applies to all of us who are struggling.

"So please, I beg you - live."