Tributes to ‘selfless lady’ and ‘relentless autism activist’ found dead in her home

Three bunches of flowers, two candles, and a brief note from friends — tributes left yesterday outside the home of murder victim Susan Dunne in the heart of rural North Kerry.

The townland of Ballinagearagh, 12km from Listowel, is normally a peaceful place, of a kind that never makes the headlines.

And, despite the dreadful killing of the autism campaigner, it was calm and tranquil yesterday, as still shocked neighbours tried to come to terms with her death in the home she shared with her son, Patrick, 19.

Ms Dunne, in her 50s, sustained severe head injuries after being attacked with either an axe or a hatchet.

A male neighbour, who was one of the people to find the body in her bedroom on Wednesday morning, was still too traumatised to talk about the shattering experience.

“She was a very private person. I knew her well and the only thing I want to say about her is that she really cherished her son,” he said, his voice trembling.

A veil of silence hung over the cluster of houses in Ballinagearagh, about 2km from the village of Lixnaw.

Ms Dunne’s county council cottage is close to six other houses, the nearest being just 100m across the narrow country road.

The cottage in which she and Patrick had lived for the past two years, about 500m down a boreen, was still cordoned off and a uniformed garda was on duty outside it yesterday.

Gardaí came and went during the day, with some technical experts still working at the scene.

Some neighbours said they scarcely knew the Dunnes, who kept to themselves, but always gave a friendly salute.

Ms Dunne, a separated mother of two other adult children, moved initially from England to Kildare and from there to Kerry about 10 years ago. Having spent several years in Killarney, she settled in Lixnaw two years ago.

Since 2009, she had been chairperson of Kerry Autism Action, which described her yesterday as a devoted mother and treasured friend. “She campaigned relentlessly to raise awareness of autism, not only in Kerry but all over Ireland,” said Domnick Walsh, of Kerry Autism Action.

As well as organising monthly meetings and regular coffee mornings, Ms Dunne organised autism conferences, information stands and workshops, fundraisers and fun events for families in Kerry who have a child with autism, even setting up Kerry’s first Sensory Friendly Cinema Club.

On Wednesday night, she had been due to meet a person whose child had been diagnosed with autism and was shortly to meet Kerry VEC with regard to setting up a second-level school for autistic children in Tralee.

Ms Dunne also volunteered for other charities for people with special needs.

“She was always willing to help or lend a listening ear when needed. She dedicated her life to helping others and in doing so touched the lives of so many people,” said Mr Walsh.

“A kind, caring and selfless lady, Susan was an inspiration to all and made a lasting impression on everyone she came in contact with.”

Murder accused due in court

A 19-year-old man is due to appear in court in Killarney today charged with the murder of a woman, in her early 50s, whose body was discovered in her home in north Kerry on Wednesday.

The man was formally charged with murder in Listowel Garda Station last night in relation to the death of Susan Dunne, at Ballinagearagh, Lixnaw, under section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act. Her body was found shortly after 11am on Wednesday and the man arrested soon after in Listowel.

Following an autopsy on Ms Dunne’s body by assistant state pathologist Dr Margot Bolster, at Kerry General Hospital, gardaí confirmed the upgrading of the investigation to one of murder. The results of the autopsy have not been disclosed.

Ms Dunne suffered extremely serious head injuries, believed to have been inflicted with an axe, or a hatchet.

The Garda investigation into killing got under way around midday on Wednesday, involving a level of resources that would normally be given to a murder probe.

Ms Dunne was chairperson of Kerry Autism Action and was due to attend a meeting of the group in Tralee on Wednesday night.

She had also been campaigning for special classes in second-level schools for children with autism.


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