April 22, 2019 at 1:06 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Prominent Northern Ireland journalist, activist killed
Lyra McKee (Photo by International Journalism Festival via Wikimedia Commons)

A prominent investigative journalist and activist in Northern Ireland was killed on April 18 as she covered riots in the city of Londonderry.

Lyra McKee was shot to death in Creggan, a predominantly Catholic neighborhood in Londonderry, which is near the Irish border.

The Associated Press reported the Police Service of Northern Ireland has said a stray bullet likely killed McKee. Authorities have also described McKee’s murder as a “terrorist act” the New IRA dissident group likely carried out.

Local media reports indicate authorities have released two young men they arrested in connection with their investigation into McKee’s death.

McKee, 29, was an editor for Mediagazer, a news website. She also contributed to BuzzFeed and other media outlets and recently signed two book deals.

Forbes Magazine in 2016 named McKee as one of its “30 under 30 in media.” McKee two years earlier wrote “Letter to my 14-year-old self,” a blog post that detailed her struggles growing up as a lesbian in Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland.

“I hated myself for much of my life because of what religion taught me about people like me,” she said during a TED Talk speech she gave in Belfast in 2017. “And when I stopped hating myself, I started hating religion.”

McKee in her speech noted she and a group of other British journalists were in Orlando, Fla., shortly after the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre. She said a young Muslim man on the trip who overheard her conversation with a leader of a local mosque they visited “spoke up” and said his best friend died by suicide because he was gay.

“Within the LGBT community we have a saying that we tell people; we tell them that it gets better,” said McKee. “What I realized that day was that it gets better for some of us, it gets better for those of us who live long enough to see it get better.”

The New York Times reported McKee was pronounced dead at the same hospital where her partner, Sara Canning, is a nurse. Canning on April 19 spoke at a vigil for McKee.

“The death of Lyra McKee in last night’s suspected terrorist incident in Londonderry is shocking and truly senseless,” said British Prime Minister Theresa May in a tweet that her office posted on April 19. “My deepest condolences go to her family, friends and colleagues. She was a journalist who died doing her job with great courage.”

Leo Varadkar, the openly gay prime minister of Ireland, also condemned McKee’s murder.

“The government condemns in the strongest possible terms the fatal shooting of journalist and writer Lyra McKee in Derry,” said Varadkar in a tweet. “We are all full of sadness after last night’s events. We cannot allow those who want to propagate violence, fear and hate to drag us back to the past.”

The Good Friday peace agreement, which was signed on April 10, 1998, formally ended decades of sectarian conflict known as the “troubles.” The New York Times reported McKee in a 2016 blog post described herself as part of the Ceasefire Babies generation that was born just before the accord was signed.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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