A publican who chased down a man accused of sexually assaulting two young girls attending a birthday party said he still can still hear their screams.
Earlier, the 49-year-old man who asked not to be named, said he joined the search for the girls when they went missing from the party, and held the suspect down until gardaí arrived.
“What had me was the screams,” he said. “I can hear them ever since in my head. They were bad.”
The man said people were searching for the girls for up to 45 minutes before they appeared from the rear of the apartment in the Athlone housing estate. It is understood the girls, who are aged six and nine, were lured away and attacked.
Around the same time he spotted a man who did not live in the estate walking out of an apartment carrying a bottle of vodka and bag of alcohol.
He was one of three men arrested after the girls were found. Two of the men were released without charge and a file is being prepared by the DPP.
“People were roaring and shouting that he had the girls in the apartment,” the local father of two said. He had been in a car traversing streets in the estate trying to track the two missing young girls.
“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’.”
The publican said that the man he apprehended denied harming the girls and claimed two other men were involved. It is understood two men were found in the house where the alleged attacks took place but were sleeping after drinking.
Locals in the estate said they were unsure exactly what had happened until one of the girl’s fathers took a phonecall from his wife at the scene where a suspect had been stopped.
“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?’
“I do not want to be a hero,” he added. “I didn’t do anything that no one else would have done.”
Earlier in the day hundreds of angry and horrified parents protested in Athlone town centre.
Mother-of-one Nicola Quigley said people felt compelled to come out on to the street over the allegations.
“It’s upsetting when something like this happens, a community has to cometogether,” said the 27-year-old 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 instil it in to their kids not to talk to strangers. These are two innocent girls whose lives have been ruined.”
Father-of-two Anthony Francis, 32, from Athlone, arranged the protest on social media to highlight the case.
“It’s sickening. It’s really, really sickening. These poor kids and their families’ lives have been destroyed,” he said holding a sunflower to signify the innocence and beauty of children.
Annemarie Nugent, 27, from Athlone, said she came out in support as her own daughter is close in age to the two girls.
“Their lives were taken away on Saturday,” she added.
Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RNCI) urged anyone with concerns about the behaviour or activity of someone living in their neighbourhood to contact gardaí.
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