One of our own

Even as I write this I’m not sure what to say. I’ve read pieces over the years from journalists and writers who lost somebody they knew during the Troubles. Their thoughts seem to flow on to paper with ease. They are always coherent with their anger and sadness. I don’t seem to have the same skill.

The BBC’s Ciaran Tracey was right when he remarked that there is something different about Lyra McKee’s murder:

“…it is the first time,” he tweeted, “that the young, urbane twitter generation, who saw her as a close, personal, digital friend, have lost one of their own.”

“One of our own.” The words were used by Adrianne Peltz when she tweeted about Lyra’s death. Her tweet was one of the first to appear on my timeline when, shocked and shaken, I checked my replies on that awful morning. “One of us,” Adrianne said as well. I used the same phrase when talking to a friend later that day.

I’ve heard Lyra’s name on the radio and the TV over and over again for the past few days. People I’ve followed on Twitter for nearly a decade, people who never glanced in the direction of Northern Ireland, are retweeting her photo and commenting on her death. There she is on the front page of the Belfast Telegraph in the Sunflower. There they are discussing her on BBC Breakfast, not because of her journalism but because she’s been murdered. Lyra, wee Lyra who used to tweet about her favourite TV shows, shitpost and get into twitter debates and arguments like everybody else. All of it seems like a horrible, twisted nightmare. She didn’t deserve this.

I can count on one hand the number of people who appreciate my Ravenclaw scarf and Lyra is one of them. We’re both Potter nerds. We met for the first time after a release party for the Cursed Child script. Lyra was the only person I knew who was planning on going at midnight to get a copy of the book, so we arranged to meet. Problem was, there were two parties and we didn’t know. She went to Easons and I went to Waterstones. We finally managed to find each other and laughed about how disorganised we’d been.

I got to know and meet Lyra because of Twitter. Northern Slant included her account when they compiled a list of her work and rightly so. I didn’t know Lyra as well as her mates but I knew enough of her to know that she was kind and lovely with a heart of gold. I fangirled with her and was insanely jealous when JK Rowling tweeted her not once but a few times. I was beyond excited for her when she got her book deal with Faber. She said she was “pretty chuffed” about it when I sent her congratulations, humble as ever.

There is something different about Lyra’s murder and the reaction to it. So many people knew her and knew of her from social media. She was part of the strange place we call Northern Ireland Twitter. I’ve talked to a number of people following Lyra’s death and they all say the same thing: they feel her loss personally. There’s a debate to be had about whether we really know someone we talk to online but I think it’s for another day. A lot of people mourning Lyra feel as though they have lost someone they know. They followed her for years, interacted and debated with her. People always talk about how certain events are an attack on all of us but this is especially so with Lyra.

On Easter Monday, Lyra’s friends went to Saoradh HQ in Derry and covered their hands in red paint. Marching straight past the men who occupy the building, they put their hands on the wall and smeared it with handprints. “Blood on their hands,” they said. “Nobody wants you.”  Lyra’s friends are brave women. Strong, fearless and worth ten of the men who glowered at them while they grieved and spoke their truth.

In response to Lyra’s friend’s actions, accounts across Twitter are changing their profiles to a red hand. It’s an act of solidarity and a cry of anger from the people that knew Lyra online.

Time will tell if her murder changes anything. One thing is certain: we will never forget Lyra and we’ll never let the people who murdered her get away with it.