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Northern Ireland Town Asks Why

August 20, 1998

By SHAWN POGATCHNIK

Associated Press Writer

OMAGH, Northern Ireland (AP) _ A choir singer, a beautician, a Sunday school teacher, a charity worker, a shopkeeper, a farmer, a cashier and a student. The final eight people slain in Northern Ireland’s deadliest attack were laid to rest Thursday in this grief-seared town.

Methodist President David Kerr told the weeping parents of Julie Hughes that there was ``no answer on this side of eternity″ why their 21-year-old daughter and 27 others had to die Saturday in an attack by Irish Republican Army dissidents.

Medical officials on Thursday raised the number of people injured to 330, 78 of whom remained hospitalized, seven in critical condition.

Police appealing for more information also disclosed that two men were seen walking away from the car packed with 500 pounds of explosives 40 minutes before the blast.

Like many other victims, Hughes _ who had come home from Scotland’s Dundee University to work for the summer for a film processor _ died because phoned warnings misled police into evacuating workers and shoppers toward the bomb.

Kerr said the past few days of horror, however, had demonstrated ``that compassion has far greater power than a 500-pound bomb.″

At service after service, ministers and mourners committed themselves to work harder for Christian forgiveness and the success of April’s agreement on how Protestants and Catholics should jointly govern Northern Ireland.

``Omagh must mark the moment when our people stopped spilling blood together, and began spilling sweat together in building a new society,″ said Seamus Mallon, Catholic deputy leader of Northern Ireland’s new cross-community Assembly, who attended Hughes’ funeral at Omagh Methodist.

At the rural Anglican Church of the Holy Trinity, Catholic priest Kevin Mullan took part in remembrance of Samantha McFarland, a 17-year-old volunteer for the foreign aid charity Oxfam.

She and 15-year-old Lorraine Wilson, who was buried Wednesday, often talked about traveling the world together _ and were both evacuated from Omagh’s Oxfam shop into the line of fire.

``This appalling act of terrorism and savagery has united the people of the town in shock and grief,″ said the Anglican minister, the Rev. Derek Quinn. ``The bomb claimed Protestant and Catholic alike, and we need each other more than ever.″

Tears rolled down Richard McFarland’s cheeks as he paid tribute to his younger sister.

``Samantha’s desire was to travel the world and she told Mum every week that she wanted to do it,″ he said. ``She can now travel with Lorraine where she wants, because the human soul knows no boundaries.″

Ann McCombe, 49, was devoted to Bible study and the choir at Mountjoy Presbyterian Church north of Omagh. Like two co-workers at a fabric shop, she was killed after being evacuated from the safety of the store.

Holding up McCombe’s personally annotated Bible, Presbyterian Rev. Ian Mairs urged her husband and two sons not to bear the ``burden″ of judging her killers.

He said the bombers would one day have to account to God ``for every life they have taken, for every limb that has been lost, for every pain they have inflicted.″

McCombe’s best friend at the shop, Geraldine Breslin, 43, also was buried Thursday, along with beautician Deborah Cartwright, 20; Sunday school teacher Esther Gibson, 36, who was planning her wedding; Elizabeth Rush, 57, slain in the rubble of her pine and canework shop; and farmer Brian McCrory, 54.

Sixteen people were buried Wednesday, and four others Tuesday _ including a 12-year-old Spanish exchange student and his teacher in Madrid, the first foreign tourists ever killed in Northern Ireland’s conflict.

A memorial service was planned Thursday in Madrid for the two Spaniards.

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