Sister of Bloody Sunday victim speaks of guilt over time taken to discover truth

Jean Hegarty was living in Canada when her 17-year-old brother Kevin McElhinney was shot dead on January 30 1972.

Jonathan McCambridge
Thursday 27 January 2022 11:00
Kevin McElhinney’s sister Jean Hegarty holds an image of her brother outside the Bogside Museum in Londonderry (Liam McBurney/PA)
Kevin McElhinney’s sister Jean Hegarty holds an image of her brother outside the Bogside Museum in Londonderry (Liam McBurney/PA)

The sister of a Bloody Sunday victim has told how she still experiences guilt because of the years it took her to discover the truth about how her brother died.

Jean Hegarty was living in Canada when her 17-year-old brother Kevin McElhinney was shot dead in Londonderry on January 30 1972.

She said that early reports suggested the victims were gunmen and it was only years later that she learned the full truth that the unarmed grocery store worker was shot from behind as he crawled towards Rossville Flats.

Jean Hegarty stands close to the spot where her brother was shot dead on Bloody Sunday (Liam McBurney/PA)

She had emigrated to Canada in 1968 after getting married, and was there when she first saw reports about Bloody Sunday on the news.

She said: “The number coming through at first was that six people had been killed, but it said they had killed gunmen and bombers.

“I was then woken at 5am with a phone call. When the phone rang at that time in the morning you knew there was something wrong.

“I just couldn’t understand. Kevin was dead; gunmen and bombers? I couldn’t connect the two at all. It was very, very confusing.”

Ms Hegarty added: “I didn’t think Kevin could be involved with gunmen, but when I got to the airport in Scotland all the reports in the papers were about gunmen and bombers being shot.

“I arrived here on the Tuesday morning. When I got home I was told of course he wasn’t involved in anything.”

It is hard to believe it is 50 years. My mother died in 1991. The family never recovered from what happened to Kevin

Jean Hegarty

Ms Hegarty later returned to live in Derry again and became involved in the Bloody Sunday Justice Campaign.

“That was a whole learning experience for me,” she said.

“Physically I never knew where the bullet entered his body and exited it, so I found that out.

“I learned that Kevin went to the march with a new pair of boots and he was anxious to get home because my daddy was going to take him on a driving lesson that afternoon.

“He was killed while crawling away from the soldiers. The evidence of that was that the bullet entered his backside and travelled up through his body and up and out through his armpit.

“The evidence was quite clear that he was shot crawling away.”

She added: “That made me feel pretty bad because I hadn’t found out at the time, and in truth I had doubts.

“I suppose to this day I have guilt about doubts that I had. The doubts are gone but I still have that guilt about them.”

A man walks past the mural Operation Motorman (left) and The Runner by the Bogside Artists in Derry’s bogside. PA Photo. Picture date: Monday January 24 2022. See PA story ULSTER BloodySunday. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

She continued: “It is hard to believe it is 50 years. My mother died in 1991. The family never recovered from what happened to Kevin.

“My father was the only parent alive to hear (the Saville Inquiry) pronounce on it. It was a bit of a non-event for my daddy. He just said ‘sure I knew that all along’.

“He was in hospital on the day, but his comeback was that he didn’t need Saville to tell him what he already knew.”

Ms Hegarty’s clearest memories of her younger brother are from the day of her wedding in 1968.

“My memories of Kevin are of him as a 14-year-old. I left in 1968 and emigrated to Canada when Kevin was 14,” she said.

“My last memory of him is that he was all dressed up in his finery, because I was married in the morning and left on the same day.

“He was a very thoughtful boy. After I left my mother had very major surgery and Kevin was her carer for a while.

“As sons go, he was an excellent son.”

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