The body of murdered honeymooner Michaela McAreavey arrives in Ireland today to begin the final leg of her journey home.
Details have been released confirming plans for the 27-year-old’s funeral on Monday in the Co Tyrone church where she only recently married her sweetheart John McAreavey before her murder in Mauritius.
It has emerged the newlywed was strangled over a purse containing a small amount of cash when she disturbed thieves in her hotel room.
Three men have been charged, one of whom is understood to have confessed to involvement in the murder.
There have been widespread tributes to the victim, whose father is Tyrone GAA football manager Mickey Harte.
The Harte and McAreavey families issued a joint statement thanking friends, relatives and the public for support, and detailing funeral arrangements at the small church where Michaela only recently celebrated her wedding to Down footballer John McAreavey.
The families said: “We are all grateful for the prayers and support we have received from all parts of Ireland, the UK and across the world. This support has helped sustain us physically, emotionally and spiritually through these darkest of days.
“The distance from Mauritius has only increased our sense of isolation and separation from our beloved Michaela and her husband John. Now as two heartbroken and devastated families, together we can share our grief and our love for Michaela and provide support and comfort to John.
“As Michaela returns home we respectfully ask for full privacy to allow our two families, united in sorrow, to have the space and time to spend with a much loved wife, daughter and sister. Therefore the wake and private family service on the evening of Friday January 14 will be for immediate family only.”
The two bereaved families said today marked “the final stage of Michaela’s journey home” and that she was being accompanied by her widower, brother Mark, her father-in-law Brendan and brother-in-law Brian.
The grieving party will fly into Belfast at lunchtime today, after which the families said Mrs McAreavey’s body will be brought directly to a nearby funeral parlour for a private removal service.
Later her remains will be brought back to the Harte home at Glencull Road, Ballygawley for a private family service.
The relatives said anyone wishing to pay their respects can do so at the family home tomorrow and on Sunday. There will be special park and ride facilities provided at nearby locations.
It was confirmed that on Monday a Requiem Mass will be held at St Malachy’s Church, Ballymacilroy, at 12.30pm. The young newlywed will then be buried in the adjoining cemetery.
The bereaved relatives added that they have arranged family flowers for the funeral and have asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to charities formed in memory of two Tyrone gaelic footballers who also died in tragic circumstances, the Cormac (McAnallen) Trust and the Spirit of Paul McGirr Fund.
The families’ said further details on funeral plans would be made available over the coming days and their statement added: “We would like to thank the media for their ongoing cooperation and for the sensitivity of the reporting to date. We hope that this continues as we struggle with God’s help to come to terms with our tremendous loss.”
Detectives on the Indian Ocean island said the young Irish language teacher died at the hands of burglars-turned-killers after she interrupted them in her hotel room as they were rummaging for a purse.
Police said that one of the three hotel workers charged in connection with the murder had confessed.
It is understood that room attendant Avinash Treebhoowoon, 29, admitted the crime to officers after one of his co-accused and fellow room attendant Raj Theekoy, 33, made a statement implicating him and the third accused, floor supervisor Sandip Moneea, 41.
Treebhoowoon and Moneea, who are alleged to have carried out the killing, face murder charges.
Police sources believe they returned to steal the purse after spotting it in the couple’s room while cleaning the day before.
Theekoy, who is charged with conspiracy, is alleged to have passed along the corridor outside the room in the luxury Legends Hotel while the struggle was taking place but, despite hearing screams, did nothing to stop it.
“Avinash Treebhoowoon has confessed,” said a spokesman for the Mauritian Police Force. “Further investigations will continue tomorrow.”
In an event that would be unheard of in Britain and Ireland, two of the accused were forced to take part in a reconstruction of the crime at the hotel complex yesterday.
Mrs McAreavey married just 10 days before her death.
On Wednesday, 30-year-old Mr McAreavey described his late wife as his best friend who was the “rock” of his life.
The Co Down gaelic footballer said he shared his pain with Mrs McAreavey’s parents, Mickey and Marian, and her three brothers.
“She is a gift from God and I now have an angel,” he said. “I can’t describe in words how lost I feel as Michaela is not just the light of my life – she is my life.”
He added: “Our hopes, our dreams and our future together are gone. I love my wife, very, very much and my world revolved around her.”
Irish Ambassador in South Africa Brendan McMahon, who is on the holiday island, said: “John is absolutely devastated. It is very upsetting. It’s not an easy situation at all.”
The ambassador said the killing had sent a shockwave across Mauritius, with staff at the Legends Hotel stunned.
Mrs McAreavey was strangled in her room on Monday and her body – discovered by her widower – left in the bath.
It is understood skin tissue found under her fingernails could prove crucial to the police case against the accused.
DNA tests on forensic evidence recovered from her body are due to be completed by the end of the week.
The newlywed fought for her life in her room, according to the police.
The three defendants were remanded in police custody on Wednesday for a week to return to Mapou District Court next Wednesday, when they are expected either to be formally charged or released.
Any future trial is expected to be held within six months.