The man arrested following the rape of two girls, aged six and nine, has been placed on suicide watch and “all possible protections.”
The accused is a 30-year-old homeless man, originally from Ballinasloe, County Galway. He is accused of luring the two girls away from a friend’s birthday party. Members of the public apprehended the man and held him down, waiting for the police. It is alleged that the accused lured the girls into an apartment block and attacked them there.
The man, who cannot be named under Irish law, appeared before Judge Seamus Hughes at the Longford District Court. He was charged on two counts of rape. He will appear again before Harrison District Court on Friday.
Judge Hughes ordered that the man be placed on suicide watch and be afforded “all possible protections” and given medical treatment. The accused’s lawyer Gearoid Geraghty requested a psychiatric assessment.
Geraghty said, “I have concerns with regards to my client's ability to enter a plea.”
Two other men were also initially arrested in connection with the crimes on Saturday but have been released without charge. A protest of over 300 people took place outside the Athlone Garda Station upon their arrest.
The accused man was moved to the Longford Courthouse in the early hours of the morning, flanked by armed police. There were also armed officers in the courtroom. The Herald reports that at least 50 people shouted outside the courthouse as he entered. Up to 25 members of the public lined the back of the courtroom.
The community of Athlone is still reeling from the events that unfolded on Saturday. A 49-year-old local publican who was involved in the initial search for the girls spoke to the Irish Examiner about how they held the suspect down until the police arrived on the scene.
He said, “What had me was the screams…I can hear them ever since in my head. They were bad.”
The local man said that 45 minutes after the alarm was raised the two girls appeared from the rear of an apartment in the Athlone housing estate. At about the same time a man, who they had noted did not live on the estate, was seen walking out of an apartment carrying a bottle of vodka and a bag of alcohol.
He was one of the three men initially questioned by the police, the other two men were found in the apartment. They were drunk and asleep.
The witness was in his car searching the streets of the estate. He said, “People were roaring and shouting that he had the girls in the apartment.
“He was almost on the main road when I drove up and stopped him. He tried to hit me with the bottle of vodka. Myself and another friend held him down on the ground and we called the gardaí. I asked him what he did with the kids. He said to me ‘I didn’t do anything to them’.”
One of the girl’s fathers was at the scene. They were unaware what had happened to the children until the father took a phone call from his wife.
“The dad had to be held back,” said the publican. “The father of the child was losing the plot shouting ‘what did you do to my baby?”
The people of Athlone have shown their revulsion at the alleged crimes by taking to the streets in droves.
“It’s upsetting when something like this happens, a community has to come together,” said Nicola Quigley, a 27-year-old, mother-of-one, from Moate.
“If this happened to my child I would expect the whole town to be here. I’m a mother and I mind children and I feel we need to protect our children.
“People should be aware of this and instill it in to their kids not to talk to strangers. These are two innocent girls whose lives have been ruined.”
Anthony Francis (32), an Athlone local and father-of-two, said, “It’s sickening. It’s really, really sickening. These poor kids and their families’ lives have been destroyed.”