Three men in their 30s and 40s were being questioned last night about a horrific sex attack on two little girls attending a birthday party.
The girls, aged six and nine, were reportedly subjected to rape ordeals after being lured to another house close by.
They were rushed to hospital for emergency medical treatment after fleeing from the house.
The children were attending the party in a housing estate in Athlone on Saturday afternoon when the attacks occurred.
Both of the children had travelled from other parts of the country and had been staying with relatives.
While the party was under way, the children were playing outside and are understood to have been enticed to a house by a man who was not attending the celebration.
Once inside, they were taken to a room where each was severely sexually assaulted.
Both of the girls were highly distressed but, once they were alone, they sought to make their escape.
They climbed out of a window and ran back to the house where the party was taking place to raise the alarm.
Adults at the party had already become concerned at the unexplained disappearance of the girls.
They were horrified at the account given by the children.
They were able to identify the house and one man was subsequently detained by local men before the gardaí were alerted.
Three men in all were arrested in the area on Saturday evening and taken to Athlone Garda Station.
They were subsequently brought to a special sitting of Athlone District Court at 10am yesterday, when they were remanded on public order charges.
They were not charged with any offence related to the attack on the girls.
Following their appearance in court, the three males were arrested as part of the investigation into the alleged sexual assault and brought back to Athlone Garda Station.
Detectives were yesterday continuing to question them about the attack.
The girls were rushed to University College Hospital in Galway where they both underwent extensive examination and were detained for medical treatment.
Their parents were also at the hospital yesterday after being alerted to the incident.
A Garda source said: “This was a truly horrific attack on two little girls.
“They endured an experience that is the stuff of every parent’s nightmare.
“There is enormous upset at what has happened.”
Gardaí are understood to be concentrating their investigation on one of the suspects, who is known to them.
He is understood to be in his early 30s, while the other two men are in their mid-40s.
Labour Party councillor Jim Henson said people in the tight-knit community had been left stunned by news of the alleged attacks.
He said: “It frightens people to think that this sort of thing could happen in their community. My thoughts and prayers are with the parents of the two young girls.
“The news has sent shock waves throughout Athlone.
“It is frightening to think that children’s innocence could be shattered in such a horrific way.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved
More in this section