Murdered teacher 'fought for her life'

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The Independent Online

The murdered daughter of Tyrone Gaelic Athletic Association manager Mickey Harte fought for her life before she was strangled, it was revealed today.

As police in Mauritius questioned six potential suspects about the death, police on the island revealed how the young teacher tried to save herself from an intruder who used a magnetic key to get into her hotel room.

A senior officer told BBC Radio Ulster programme Wendy Austin's Talkback: "The victim fought for her life. There was a struggle in the room."

A post-mortem examination revealed that she had been strangled. She was found dead in the hotel room by her new husband, Down senior Gaelic footballer John McAreavey.

His brother and Michaela's brother Mark were on their way to the island this afternoon. They hope to have the body returned by the weekend.

The couple were on honeymoon after getting married less than two weeks ago.

Superintendent Yoosoof Soopun, from the Mauritius Police Force, said: "We are confident of a positive result today."

He said Mr McAreavey was in the restaurant of the hotel when his wife was murdered, and police have ruled him out as a suspect.

"She had gone back to the room to get some biscuits to put in her tea and, when she failed to return, her husband went to look for her," he said.

"When he found her in the room, she had been killed. He tried to help her but she was already dead. A post-mortem has showed she was strangled, she died from neck compression."

Mr Soopun said the killer used an electronic key card to enter the room.

"There was no forced entry into the room. Whoever killed her definitely used an electronic card."

He added: "This is being viewed with much concern by the police and government of Mauritius. We are doing everything we can to find whoever was responsible."

A member of staff at the four-star Legends Hotel, who went to the room to try to revive the young teacher, later consoled her husband as he made a statement to police.

Afterwards the staff member told the Press Association: "John is far from home, far from his family and in a country where he does not know anybody. I am just here to provide as much help as I can. This is a terrible situation. He needs support."

The couple were on the second leg of their honeymoon after flying out to Dubai.

Mr Harte left them at Dublin Airport the day after the marriage ceremony, close to the family home near Ballygawley, Co Tyrone.

An official from the Irish Embassy in Pretoria, South Africa, is to arrive today to assist Mr McAreavey.

The hotel is in the centre of the fishing village of Grand Gaube, not far from Grand Bay in the north-eastern corner of the island. The couple booked in on Saturday and were due to leave on Sunday.

Mr McAreavey spoke with a government minister in Mauritius and asked him to relay a simple message home: "I love my wife."

Tourism Minister Nando Bodha said a number of people were being questioned by police, including hotel workers.

"So far the police have been talking to a number of people. I think some are regarded as suspects from what I have heard," he told RTE Radio.

Mr Bodha said he met Mr McAreavey at the hotel, where a small number of staff where constantly at his side offering support.

"He is really very distressed," the minister said.

It is understood Mr McAreavey found his wife dead 45 minutes after she left him in the restaurant.

"This is the first time that something like this has happened here. Those who have been to Mauritius know that it is a peaceful place," the minister said.

"What I can assure you is that there will be a fully fledged investigation into the matter.

"The people of Mauritius are shocked. We share the distress and sadness of the family."

Mr Bodha said he had spoken to the Police Commissioner in Mauritius and expected the case to progress rapidly.

Church of Ireland Bishop of Derry and Raphoe Ken Good said his prayers and sympathy went to the family.

"This is a cruel and tragic blow for the family and a moment of great sadness for the GAA community," he said.

"It is very apparent that Michaela brought great joy and brightness to her new husband, her family and to all she came in contact with.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with those who have been so grievously wounded by her untimely death."