The brother of a man shot dead by dissident republicans has said his family has been ripped apart by the brutal killing.
Kevin Kearney, 46, was gunned down in broad daylight as he walked his dogs through Alexandra Park in north Belfast last week.
Speaking for the first time, his older brother Martin, 48, said the victim’s partner and four children, some of whom are receiving grief counselling, were totally shattered by the death.
“The family is just devastated,” he said. “These people have just destroyed a whole family.”
A group calling itself the ‘IRA’ claimed responsibility for the shooting which happened exactly one week ago.
Mr Kearney, from Dunmore Avenue, north Belfast was known to police for previous offending and the detective leading the murder hunt has said a possible drugs link is being investigated as a possible motive.
But, despite his brother’s background, Mr Kearney said there could be no justification for vigilante justice.
“Kevin wasn’t an angel but for all the faults of the British justice system it is a better system to be brought through the courts (and) have a fair trial than to have someone step out of a bush and execute you,” he added.
Describing the gunmen as “lower than animals”, Mr Kearney appealed for the republican community to give them up.
“If they can’t talk to the police about it, talk to Sinn Fein about it and have these evil people brought before the courts,” he said.
“They have destroyed our whole family. They have left four children without a father and they are just demons. They are not fit to be in society.”
The self-styled ‘IRA’ gun gang have also issued threats against other members of the dead man’s family but, Mr Kearney said they did not warrant comment.
The murder happened less than 24 hours before 35-year-old Barry McCrory was shot dead at his home in Londonderry. Although police have not yet attributed blame and there was no claim of responsibility for Mr McCrory’s death, the finger of suspicion has also been pointed firmly at dissident republican vigilantes.
Mr Kearney’s funeral Mass was held at Holy Family Church off the Limestone Road in north Belfast yesterday.
The alarm was raised last Tuesday after he did not return home from walking his dogs and then failed to collect his young daughter from school. Mr Kearney revealed concerned family members had conducted searches before contacting the police. He claimed his brother had never expressed any concerns about his safety.
Describing the past week as traumatic he said relatives were still struggling to come to terms with the brutal attack which had robbed four children of their father.
He said: “Kevin was fun loving, happy and loved sports. He was very athletic and would have run over 100 miles-a-week. He loved training; loved his children and loved his animals. He loved life. He was happy-go-lucky.
“He just loved his family and children and spent every hour he could with his children. They are destroyed. Just devastated. They loved Kevin and the family will not be the same without him. These people have destroyed our lives.”
Mr Kearney spoke out as the Police Service of Northern Ireland, who have described the killing as “cold blooded and callous” returned to the scene of the crime in a bid to jog people’s memories.
An actor resembling the dead man, dressed in dark tracksuit bottoms, a dark jacket with the hood pulled up over a baseball cap and with blue trainers walked Mr Kearney’s two dogs, Dolly and Shadow, along the same winding path through Alexandra Park to the spot where it is believed Mr Kearney was shot dead.
Floral tributes have been hung on railings next the lake in the middle of the park where his body was recovered a day later.
Detective Chief Inspector Justyn Galloway said he believed criminal elements linked to dissident republicans were responsible for the gun attack.
The senior officer said although the response from the local community had been excellent, there were people who still had not yet come forward with vital information.
“The investigation is making progress but we still need assistance on specific points,” he said.
“Did anyone see Mr Kearney in Alexandra Park last Tuesday morning between 8.45am and 9.15am with his dogs? We know that people were in the park and I would make a specific appeal to people running in the park.
To date, two people have been arrested with one man aged 45 still in police custody. Police have also seized a burnt out silver Peugeot 406 car, registration number GNZ 8168, for forensic examination.
Officers in a mobile station have maintained a presence in Alexandra Park and have also been carrying out house-to-house inquiries as part of the major investigation.