The family of journalist Lyra McKee who was murdered by the New IRA in Londonderry have described her as “a friend to all” and “a gentle innocent soul” in a tribute.
Ms McKee, 29, died as a result of injuries sustained when she was shot on the Creggan estate on April 18.
The dissident group admitted responsibility for her murder in a statement given to The Irish News using a recognised code word. The group offered “full and sincere apologies” to her family and friends.
The admission came the day before Ms McKee’s funeral at Belfast Cathedral on Wednesday.
A tribute from her mother Joan, brothers Gary and David, and sisters Joan Hunter, Nichola Corner and Mary Crossan said: “On Thursday 18th April our beautiful Lyra was taken from us.
“A daughter, a sister, an aunt, a great-aunt, a partner, a niece, a cousin, and above all, a best friend and confidante to so many of us.
“A friend to all, a gentle innocent soul who wouldn’t wish ill on anyone. Such a warm and innocent heart, she was the greatest listener, someone who had time for everyone.”
The McKee family added: “She was a smart, strong-minded woman who believed passionately in inclusivity, justice and truth.
“Lyra spoke to and made friends with anybody and everybody, no matter what their background, those of all political views and those with none. This openness, and her desire to bring people together, made her totally apolitical.”
“We would ask that Lyra’s life and her personal philosophy are used as an example to us all as we face this tragedy together. Lyra’s answer would have been simple, the only way to overcome hatred and intolerance is with love, understanding and kindness,” they said.
The family also made the statement on behalf of their spouses and Ms McKee’s nieces and nephews.
They thanked their local community for their “outpouring of support and love,” adding: “We ask everyone who knew Lyra to continue her message of positivity and hope, by respecting her memory with dignity and respect.”
Sara Canning, Ms McKee’s partner, said previously: “Our hopes and dreams and all of her amazing potential was snuffed out by this single barbaric act.”
A 57-year-old woman arrested on Tuesday morning by detectives investigating the murder has now been released unconditionally.
Detectives from PSNI Major Investigation Team are continuing to appeal for help from the local community in Creggan or anyone with information.
Two men aged 18 and 19 were initially arrested in connection with the killing but were later released without charge.
The New IRA is an amalgam of armed groups opposed to the peace process and it recently claimed responsibility for parcel bombs sent to London and Glasgow in March.
Police believe the violence was orchestrated in response to an earlier search by officers aimed at averting imminent trouble associated with this week’s anniversary of the Easter Rising.
The statement said: “On Thursday night, following an incursion on the Creggan by heavily armed British crown forces which provoked rioting, the IRA deployed our volunteers to engage.
“We have instructed our volunteers to take the utmost care in future when engaging the enemy, and put in place measures to help ensure this.
“In the course of attacking the enemy Lyra McKee was tragically killed while standing beside enemy forces.
“The IRA offer our full and sincere apologies to the partner, family and friends of Lyra McKee for her death.”
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the statement was an absolute disgrace, that showed no remorse for the death of Ms McKee.
“Their so-called instruction to their ‘volunteers’ to ‘take the utmost care’ when engaging in violence is utterly sickening and devoid of any humanity,” he said.
He added: “The murder of Lyra McKee must not be in vain. Together, political leaders must come together to re-engage in a talks process to fill the vacuum that currently gives groups like this too much oxygen.”
Alliance Party leader Naomi Long said: “First, their spokespeople dismissed Lyra McKee’s murder as an “accident”. Now, the New IRA accept responsibility for her murder, while asking their members to be more careful when trying to murder people in future.
“To be clear, killing a police officer is every bit as wrong as killing a journalist. Both are there doing their job. Both of them have families who care about them. Neither deserve to be shot in cold blood.”
Police in Northern Ireland say the investigation into the killing is continuing at a “rapid pace”.
Detective Superintendent Jason Murphy said more than 140 people had contacted officers with information, adding: “This was an attack on the community. Lyra, tragically, was a random victim and I need the public to continue to support us.
“Many witnesses have contacted us to give us information that has been provided to them.
“More than 140 people have contacted us via our MIPP (Major Incident Public Portal) with messages, including mobile phone footage.”
Mr Murphy appealed for witnesses or anyone with information to come forward.