The 29-year-old was shot dead, probably by a stray bullet, during a riot on Thursday evening in Creggan, an area on the outskirts of the city, the Police Service of Northern Ireland said. She had been standing near a police van when a gunman opened fire.
The riot broke out after security forces raided the area in search of firearms before Easter weekend, when republicans opposed to the British presence in Northern Ireland commemorate the 1916 Easter uprising against British rule.
A crowd of about 100 people, including journalists, had gathered at the scene, where young people had been throwing petrol bombs at police and where they had set two vehicles on fire.
PSNI opened an investigation into the killing and said dissident republicans calling themselves “the New IRA” were likely responsible.
The group rejects the 1998 Good Friday peace deal, which largely brought an end to decades of sectarian bloodshed.
Saoradh (or “Liberation” in the Irish Gaelic language) is an unregistered party formed by Irish republicans and is accused of being the political wing of the so-called “New IRA”. It released a statement saying McKee was “killed accidentally” by a “Republican volunteer”.
Leo Varadkar, the prime minister of the neighbouring Republic of Ireland, described the killing as “an act of hate”.
“We cannot allow those who want to propagate violence, fear and hate to drag us back to the past,” he said.
British counterpart Theresa May said the killing was “shocking and truly senseless”.
Talented and accomplished
McKee has been remembered as a talented and accomplished investigative journalist, dedicated to documenting Northern Ireland’s recovery from 30 years of sectarian conflict, known as the Troubles. The conflict erupted between largely Catholic republicans, who wanted to reunite Ireland as one country, and mostly Protestant unionists, who wanted Northern Ireland to remain British.
|McKee was writing a book on the disappearance of young people during three decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland [Jess Lowe Photography/Reuters]|
The Good Friday agreement largely put an end to that conflict, but paramilitary groups have continued to exist on both sides.
The National Union of Journalists said McKee was “one of the most promising journalists” in Northern Ireland.
Sarah Kay, a personal friend of McKee’s, met her while the journalist was working on a book about how young people who are not direct victims of the conflict are affected and traumatised by it.
“She wanted to write about them, she wanted to write about people she thought were voiceless, or that no one cared about,” Kay told Al Jazeera. “I think it’s in that spirit that she was [in Creggan] yesterday. She was very committed to the position she felt she was in, and believed she had a very important role to play, as all journalists do,” Kay recounted.
The two met in Belfast, where McKee lived before moving to the city known by Catholics as Derry and by Protestants as Londonderry, to live with her girlfriend.
“She was somebody who was very committed to the peace process, very committed to integration and inclusion, to the end of sectarianism,” Kay said. “It’s just unfathomable that she was killed by paramilitaries.”
“People in Derry have been suffering a lot in the last few months, there’s been a lot of rioting, a lot of violence,” Kay, a 35-year-old lawyer, continued.
A car bomb that exploded outside a court in Derry in January made international headlines and was also blamed on the New IRA.
“It seems that this time it crossed the line, it went too far,” Kay continued.
“People are condemning the murder left, right and centre. I think last night drew a line on what people were willing to live with, especially in Creggan.”
Additional reporting by Ylenia Gostoli in London