A father-of-five from suffered a sustained and brutal assault in Ballymoney before being shot, police in Northern Ireland have said.
Brian McIlhagga, 42, was attacked and killed when at least three armed and masked men forced their way into a house in Riverview Park, Ballymoney in Co Antrim last night.
Mr McIlhagga, a plasterer who was originally from the Ballymena area of Co Antrim, was dragged out of the house in a quiet cul-de-sac, beaten and shot once in the leg in the front garden where, despite frantic resuscitation efforts by neighbours, he died.
Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) chief inspector Michael Harvey who is leading the murder hunt, said: “This was a brutal, sustained and vicious assault on this gentleman.
“This is a gentleman who has five children.”
A 32-year-old woman was also in the house was battered and forced to lie on the kitchen floor while the shooting took place.
Four children aged 13-years-old and younger were in the house when the gang burst in but it is unclear whether they witnessed the killing.
A motive has yet to be established and the PSNI has not ruled out the involvement of paramilitaries.
Mr Harvey added: “I have no information to rule in or rule out paramilitaries or any other motives for this attack.”
Police have not disclosed what type of weapon was used or whether other instruments were used during the beatings.
Police have set up a dedicated incident room at Ballymoney police station and are urging members of the public to get in contact.
Mr Harvey said: “I would appeal for anyone who was in the area of 10 Riverview Park between 10 and 11pm (last night) who saw any persons or any vehicles to contact detectives. We have a special incident room established at Ballymoney police station.
“Enquiries are at a very early stage. But, I would appeal to the local community to contact detectives.”
Mr Harvey said: “The victim has a minor criminal record but, he is certainly not a major criminal.”
A white and yellow forensic tent has been erected in the front garden of the pebble-dashed property which overlooks a small a river and public walkway which leads to the town centre.
The well-kept sleepy cul-de-sac, which is not far from a memorial garden dedicated to the Ballymoney hero -- motorcycle legend Joey Dunlop -- has been a hive of police activity for much of the day.
A large section of the riverbank has been cordoned off for most of the day with blue and white tape and police patrol cars preventing members of the public from gaining access from a number of points.
Stunned neighbours who heard two shots ring out have spoken of their horror at the attack.
Ivy Owens, whose house backs on to the property where the murder happened, choked back emotions as she described hearing the gun.
She said: “I was lying with my daughter in bed in the back bedroom when I heard two almighty bangs - which I never thought for one minute were gunshots. I looked out the window to see if I could see or hear anything in my yard because it sounded so close. But I couldn’t see anything.
“Moments later my husband came home and then we saw lights (from emergency services) coming in but, again we didn’t match the arrival of the lights with shots.
“I didn’t really think it was gunshots until I heard this morning.
“I am really shocked. It’s such a quiet place.”
Ms Owens, who has lived in the area since 1997, said she had been left frightened by the shooting.
“Those children go to school with my children, so it is unreal and it does leave you frightened,” she added.
Leslie Gregg, a resident of Riverview Park for almost 20 years, said he was shocked by the shooting.
Mr Gregg said: “I think it is terrible news. For this to happen to any family is just terrible. I wouldn’t know the victim by name but I might know him to see. It is really shocking - just terrible, but these things do happen.
“We have been here almost 20 years and nothing like this has ever happened at all. It is normally a very quiet area.
“I saw the blue lights of the (ambulance) response and the police come in along with them so I thought to myself there must be something wrong. I thought maybe it was a domestic but then I heard it was much worse.”
Meanwhile, Beth McCracken, who has lived in the area for 12 years, said: “It’s not often there is so much activity about here. It is normally very quiet. It was a shock this morning. To have something like that come to your doorstep is unbelievable.
“I probably know them to speak to but not personally. This fella is not long here and apparently he is not from here.”
Northern Ireland’s Justice Minister David Ford has led the political condemnations.
Mr Ford offered sympathies to the victim’s family said the killing should be “condemned without reservation”.
He said: “As politicians begin working to deliver on the agreement reached at Stormont for the good of our entire community, evil people are still coming out of the darkness to bring death and suffering back on to our streets.
“There is no excuse for violence, nor any cause to justify it.”
DUP MLA for North Antrim Mervyn Storey was at the crime scene this morning and said the community had been left reeling.
He said: “A family has been devastated and a lady is in hospital.
“It is in a very quiet residential area of Ballymoney. I have no doubt this will send shock through the community.”
Sinn Fein MLA Daithi McKay said the killers must be caught.
He said in a statement: “This murder is a terrible blow to the victim’s family and my thoughts are with them as they come to terms with this dreadful news. Those behind the murder need to be taken off the streets.”
Anyone with information is asked to contact PSNI detectives on the non emergency 101 number.