Heart-broken Tyrone GAA manager Mickey Harte tonight spoke of his devastation over the murder of his “beautiful” daughter.
He said: “This is the worst nightmare that anyone can imagine. If you think things can be bad, then you go beyond that because that is where we are.”
He was speaking as police in Mauritius questioned six suspects about the murder of Michaela, 27, strangled as she fought for her life in her honeymoon suite.
Mr Harte said her death had left his family shattered.
In his home near Ballygawley, Co Tyrone, he stood with two of his three sons, Matthew and Michael, and said: “This is too horrible to contemplate. We are just all devastated. It is the worst of the worst and our hearts are broken.”
His son Mark is expected to arrive in Mauritius tomorrow with a brother of Michaela’s husband, John McAreavey, who is a Down senior Gaelic footballer. The couple were on honeymoon after their marriage less than two weeks ago.
Friends who arrived at the Harte family home, just off the main road to Omagh, and who embraced Mr Harte included Down GAA legends Sean O’Neill and Maurice Hayes.
A police officer in Mauritius said the young Irish language teacher had tried to save herself after it appears she found an intruder in her room.
“The victim fought for her life. There was a struggle in the room,” he said.
A post-mortem examination revealed that she had been strangled. She was found dead in the hotel room by her husband after she had left him in the restaurant of their four-star Legends Hotel 45 minutes earlier to fetch biscuits that she had brought from home for her tea.
Her father said: “We just loved our Michaela. She was such a good girl. Every father says that about their daughter, but I can say that without a shadow of doubt. She was a gem and we will always remember her.
“What a day she had on her wedding day. She was just radiant, a beautiful girl, and I just love her to bits. So does her whole family. We are so devastated.
“The McAreavey family are so special to us to. There is a special bond. John is a special lad. You have to be special if you’re going to be Michaela’s husband.
“John is out in Mauritius. He is isolated out there. It has been an awful time. Our hearts go out to him and I would ask everyone to please respect his privacy.”
In a further development Superintendent Yoosoof Soopun of the Mauritius Police Force, said work was continuing to identify the killer: “We are confident of a positive result.”
He said Mr McAreavey was in the restaurant of the hotel when his wife was murdered, and police have ruled him out as a suspect.
“She had gone back to the room to get some biscuits to put in her tea and, when she failed to return, her husband went to look for her,” he said.
“When he found her in the room, she had been killed. He tried to help her but she was already dead. A post-mortem has showed she was strangled, she died from neck compression.”
Mr Soopun said the killer used an electronic key card to enter the room.
“There was no forced entry into the room. Whoever killed her definitely used an electronic card.”
He added: “This is being viewed with much concern by the police and government of Mauritius. We are doing everything we can to find whoever was responsible.”
A member of staff at the hotel, who went to the room to try to revive the young teacher, later consoled her husband as he made a statement to police.
Afterwards the staff member said: “John is far from home, far from his family and in a country where he does not know anybody. I am just here to provide as much help as I can. This is a terrible situation. He needs support.”
The couple were on the second leg of their honeymoon after flying out to Dubai.
Mr Harte left them at Dublin Airport the day after the marriage ceremony, close to the family home.
Arrangements are now being made for the funeral and two car parks set aside for mourners include one at St Malachy’s church where the couple were married. It is thought likely that the church will also be the venue for the funeral Requiem Mass.
A fleet of buses has been organised to ferry mourners visiting the family’s rural home which is at the end of a narrow country lane.
Meanwhile, an official from the Irish Embassy in Pretoria, South Africa, is to arrive today to assist Mr McAreavey.
The hotel is in the centre of the fishing village of Grand Gaube, not far from Grand Bay in the north-eastern corner of the island. The couple booked in on Saturday and were due to leave on Sunday.
Mr McAreavey spoke with a government minister in Mauritius and asked him to relay a simple message home: “I love my wife.”
Tourism Minister Nando Bodha said a number of people were being questioned by police, including hotel workers.
“So far the police have been talking to a number of people. I think some are regarded as suspects from what I have heard,” he said.
Mr Bodha said he met Mr McAreavey at the hotel, where a small number of staff where constantly at his side offering support.
“He is really very distressed,” the minister said.
Loved ones on their way to Mr McAreavey hope to have the body returned by the weekend.
“This is the first time that something like this has happened here. Those who have been to Mauritius know that it is a peaceful place,” the minister said.
“What I can assure you is that there will be a fully fledged investigation into the matter. The people of Mauritius are shocked. We share the distress and sadness of the family.”
Mr Bodha said he had spoken to the Police Commissioner in Mauritius and expected the case to progress rapidly.
Church of Ireland Bishop of Derry and Raphoe Ken Good said his prayers and sympathy went to the family.
“This is a cruel and tragic blow for the family and a moment of great sadness for the GAA community,” he said.
“It is very apparent that Michaela brought great joy and brightness to her new husband, her family and to all she came in contact with.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with those who have been so grievously wounded by her untimely death.”