Three men have been arrested in connection with the shooting of an off duty police officer in Omagh, Northern Ireland. An investigation had been launched by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) following the shooting of detective chief inspector John Caldwell.
DCI Caldwell was off duty when he was shot by masked men last night (February 22). He was taken to hospital where he remains in a stable but critical condition. An attempted murder investigation has been launched by PSNI.
Dissident republican group, the New IRA, have been outlined as a ‘primary focus’ by police. Assistant chief constable Mark McEwan told BBC Radio Ulster: "The investigation is at an early stage, we are keeping an open mind. There are multiple strands to that investigation. The primary focus is on violent dissident republicans and within that there is a primary focus as well on New IRA."
Police have arrested three men aged 38, 45 and 47 under the Terrorism Act in Omagh and Coalisland in connection with the attempted murder and they are currently being questioned by detectives in Musgrave Serious Crime Suite.
Omagh shooting police statement
Assistant chief constable for crime department, Mark McEwan said: “The officer’s condition remains critical but stable. We are closely consulting with John Caldwell’s family, who are understandably shocked at last night’s shooting. John is a highly respected senior investigating officer who dedicates himself to service both in supporting victims and families in bringing others to justice. He is also an active member of the Omagh community.
“Last night at approximately 8pm at the youth sports centre in Killyclogher Road, Omagh, when John was putting footballs into the boot of the car, accompanied by his young son, two gunmen approached and we believe both have fired multiple shots. John ran a short distance and fell to the ground when the gunmen continued to fire shots at him.
“That shows the absolute callous nature of this attack, and it is utterly disgusting that the gunmen carried out this attempted murder in front of crowds of adults and children. John’s own young son was with him at the time and witnessed the shooting. The trauma inflicted on this young boy is just horrific and he will never forget seeing his dad shot multiple times.
“The gunmen fired from close range in the busy sports training area, which could also quite easily have killed or seriously injured children who were present at the time of the shooting.
“Those who carried out this attack were completely reckless in their actions and they had absolutely no regard for the officer who was injured or anyone in the crowd.
“John sustained a number of bullet wounds to his torso and was taken to hospital for treatment to his injuries. He remains in a critical but stable condition this morning and has undergone surgery for his wounds.
“I would like to pay tribute to a brave member of the public who administered first aid. I would also thank our partners in the ambulance service. If it had not been for their quick actions we might have been looking at something very different this morning.
“We recognise the huge shock and trauma this has caused in the community in Omagh. I know this is not what they want to see happening in their town.”
Assistant chief constable Mark McEwan added: “The investigation is at an early stage and I would appeal to anyone with information to bring it to police. Our main line of enquiry is that violent dissident republicans carried out this vile attack and within that a primary focus is on the New IRA.
“The two gunmen, who were dressed in dark clothing, carried out this cowardly attack and left the scene on foot. At least two other vehicles were struck by their volley of shots. We believe the gunmen fled the scene in a small, dark coloured vehicle shortly after 8pm. We believe this vehicle was abandoned and set on fire in Racolpa Road, Omagh.
“We want to hear from anyone who was in the area or who witnessed what happened to get in touch with any information that could help with our investigation. Likewise, if you have captured dash-cam or mobile footage, please contact officers on 101 quoting reference number 1831 of 22/02/23.
“I would also ask anyone with information to phone 101 or if you would prefer to remain anonymous contact independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.”
Local community reacts to ‘callous’ act
According to the Derry Journal, Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Andrew Forster, condemned the attempted murder as ‘callous and evil’.
He said: “The attempted murder of a PSNI officer in Omagh, on Wednesday evening, was a crime against God and a crime against man. The attack was callous and evil and will be condemned by all right-thinking people.
“There is no justification for this kind of violence in our society. The fact that this happened in close proximity to children highlights the wickedness and recklessness of the perpetrators.
“I offer my prayers for the injured officer and his family, and pledge my support to his colleagues in the PSNI. I appeal to anyone with any knowledge about this crime to give the information to the police.”
The Archbishops of Armagh Eamon Martin and John McDowell described the attack on DCI Caldwell as ‘horrific’.
“As the Catholic and Protestant Archbishops of Armagh, we are united in our condemnation of this abhorrent attack on someone serving our community.
"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.”
The chair of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, Liam Kelly, condemned the attack as ‘barbaric and cold-blooded’.
Mr Kelly said: “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."