The families of the six and nine year old girls, who were raped on Saturday afternoon in Athlone, have thanked the police and public in the area for their support.

In a statement released to their local newspaper, the Westmeath Independent, they said, “We would like to express our heartfelt appreciation of An Garda Síochána for their support and tireless efforts at this difficult time. Their compassion and professionalism has been a source of great comfort for us and, more importantly for our precious little daughters.

“The other professional care providers have also helped us to begin to find our way through this challenging period. Finally, we would also like to recognize the kindness and practical support that we have received from the people of Athlone. The level of public empathy and practical assistance has been immense and again it has been a source of comfort to us all at this most difficult time.”

The two little girls had been attending a birthday party at a friend’s home when they went missing.

The alarm was raised and the public and police began to search the area for the girls. Approximately 45 minutes after the alarm was raised the two girls climbed out a window of an apartment, ran back to the party and raised the alarm.

The children were able to identify the house they were taken to and one man, before the police arrived.

Three men were initially arrested but two were released without charges.

A 30-year-old man, originally from Ballinasloe, in County Galway, has been charged with four counts of rape at the Longford District Court, on Tuesday.

Dressed in blue jeans, white runners and black jacket, the accused made “no reply” when the four charges were read out.

He has been placed on suicide watch and protection and will appear in court again on Friday.

Here is raw footage from Crime TV of the man being escorted into court: