Ireland has been stunned by a rare child -murder, the death of 12-year-old schoolgirl Michaela Davis who was raped and strangled last weekend.

A baby-faced 18-year-old neighbor, Jonathan Byrne, has already been charged with her murder and has been remanded in custody in prison.

Michaela will be buried Thursday this week by the priest who officiated at her Confirmation three months ago, her parish priest Father John Daly.

The youngster, who lived in Porterstown, Dublin, moved from national school during the summer to start her first secondary school term last Thursday at Luttrellstown Community College close to her home in West Dublin.

She left the family home shortly after midnight on Friday after telling her parents she was stepping out for a couple of minutes. When she didn’t return by 2 a.m. the alarm was raised and a search started.

Just over 13 hours later her body was discovered on a grassy slope on the banks of the Royal Canal by a man walking his dog. Immediately a Garda (police) hunt with 80 officers was established to find her killer.

While the murder hunt continued cops warned that Michaela, as a 12-year-old who had recently been hanging around with older children and young adults, was vulnerable and may have been exploited.

Young neighbors said she was “a sweet young girl” who had begun drinking and smoking in recent months and was capable of passing herself of as a 16 or 17-year-old when she wore heavy make-up.

She had been going out with a boy who thought she was 17, and when he discovered her true age he broke the affair off three weeks before Michaela died.

Her bicycle was discovered in a separate area to where her body was discovered with signs of strangling.

The heartbroken mother and father of Michaela Davis, Deirdre and Brendan, rejected much of the accusations of her young neighbors and spoke of how they are living through every parent’s worst nightmare.

They described her death as “the needless loss of a girl barely beginning life,” and said that their little girl was a child who was full of life and brought them much joy.

They spoke poignantly of how Michaela had been due to hand in her first secondary school homework on Monday.

In a statement released on behalf of the family they added, “She was very close to her mam, dad and brother Brendan. They were always there for one another. Michaela had started her first day of secondary school on Thursday last. She was given her first homework . . . never to be answered.

“All Michaela’s friends are heartbroken at the moment and cannot get their heads around this tragedy, no more than the rest of the extended family and friends. This situation is not and never will be about the crime or the perpetrator. It’s about Michaela and the realization of a parent’s worst fear -- to lose a child so full of life.”

Byrne, of Clonsilla, Dublin, not far from Michaela’s home, walked into a police station with his father within hours of the discovery of her body, and detectives soon said they weren’t seeking anybody else for the murder.

Byrne was later brought before Dublin District Court, charged with the murder.

The court heard that he made no reply when charged. He was given free legal aid, and Judge Patrick Clyne also agreed that he be given medical attention.   He is due back in court on Friday.

Counselors were in attendance to deal with students’ grief at both the national school attended by Michaela before the summer recess and the secondary school after the break.

Michaela Davis