TRAGIC LOSS The late Robert Gray.
Shock at ambush shooting
Killing of Westport man in Nigeria leaves community reeling
THE BODY of 45-year-old Irish engineer Robert Gray, who was killed in a shooting in Nigeria last week, is expected to be returned to Westport tomorrow, Wednesday. While his funeral will be held here later this week, his devastated colleagues in Nigeria held a service for him yesterday (Monday), after three days of official mourning for the popular employee of construction company, PW Ltd.
Mr Gray was ambushed and shot dead during an apparent robbery near the town of Takum, in Taraba State, close to the border with Cameroon, last Thursday. He was travelling with a driver in an official Hilux van when the violent attack occurred around 5.30pm. His driver, who was also shot and seriously injured, is recovering in hospital. Reportedly, local police have been unable to speak to him due to the seriousness of his injuries.
A Nigerian police spokesman declined to confirm what the robbers may have taken in the fatal attack. Amos Olaoye said the force had deployed extra officers to the area to track down the assailants.
The Mayo News understands Mr Gray had recently expressed concerns about his safety and was considering returning home.
Some media reports state that PW had originally declined to accept a contract for the construction of the Takum-Wukari road because of the lack of security in the area. They claim that PW only proceeded with the €20 million deal after they received government assurances for the safety of their workers.
News of the tragic incident has left the local community in Westport reeling as they continue to extend their sympathies to his widow, Jeanette Kearns, his twin daughters, his mother Kitty and his wider family. Father Karl Burns of Westport parish, and Father Billy Sheridan, a missionary priest, have provided them with comfort and support since they received news of the tragedy.
It was Father Sheridan, a native of Newport, who broke the tragic news to the family last Thursday night after he was contacted by a friend in Nigeria.
The late Robert, who returned to his native place at least three or four times each year, had travelled home just four weeks ago for a family holiday. He also came home earlier this year for his daughters’ Confirmation ceremony. They were due to start first year in the Sacred Heart Secondary School this week.
Mr Gray’s widow Jeanette Kearns, who is also a native of Westport, works as a nurse at the Sacred Heart Nursing Home, in Castlebar.
The Mayo News understands that senior executives from PW Ltd will travel to Westport with Robert’s remains and to express their support and sympathy.
A spokesman for the company confirmed that Robert had worked with PW in Nigeria for 12 years and was ‘a very valuable and popular member of staff’.
“His many friends and colleagues in PW are deeply upset at the news of his death and are doing everything they can to assist his family,” the spokesman said.
A native of Horkans’ Hill, Westport, Robert Gray was involved in road construction projects with PW.
As well as his widow, Jeanette, and twin daughters, Robert is survived by his mother Kitty; his brother, Conor, an officer in the Australian police force; and his three sisters, Caroline, Sharon and Rose. His father, Declan, died last year.
WESTPORT priest, Father Karl Burns confirmed he had visited the grieving family on a number of occasions since they heard the tragic news late on Thursday night.
“This is an awful tragedy for the family who are reeling from the shocking news. It is a very sensitive time and they need privacy and our prayers,” Fr Burns said.
Local TD, Minister for State, Michael Ring said: “I know Robert’s family very well and this is just a terrible tragedy. He was a young man and now has left a wife and children behind him. As this terrible news seeps out through our tightly-knit community people are very upset.”
Fianna Fáil town councillor Brendan Mulroy grew up beside Robert on Horkans’ Hill, Westport. “The whole area is just devastated by the news. We all knew Robert very well. Even though he had worked abroad for a number of years because his family still lives in the town he was still part of the community. I remember growing up on Horkans’ Hill, Robert was very highly respected … he always looked out for the younger lads on the estate,” Cllr Mulroy said.
Community activist and Independent Cllr Martin Keane also said he knew Robert when he was younger. “He was involved in community events and sports at local level. He played soccer for Westport United, and he was involved with the GAA and voluntary organisations too,” Cllr Martin Keane said.
A spokesman at the Department of Foreign Affairs said consular assistance is being provided to the family.
FOUNDED in 1948 by Hugo V Flinn, PW is now an international company with an Irish office in Kilcoole, Co Wicklow. According to its website, the company also has offices in Nigeria and Ghana. PW operates on two continents and in several sectors including civil engineering, gold and bauxite mining and the oil and gas industry. Currently it has over 30 ongoing projects in Africa, the majority of which are in Nigeria. They are valued at over $680 million.
PW Nigeria was established in 1974 by Irish and Nigerian investors. It now operates in Nigeria, Ghana, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, Mali, Ireland and the UK.
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