THE distraught parents and sister of murder victim Nicola Furlong have spoken publicly of their shock upon realising she had been murdered.
Andrew Furlong said, when first contacted to be informed of Nicola's death, he was asked if he was her father and he immediately responded by asking: "Don't tell me she's after being in an accident."
But he was then informed: "It's worse. She's dead."
Mr Furlong said he asked if it was certain that it was Nicola.
He said he hoped the wrong passports were involved and that it might be a case of "mistaken identity."
He confessed he had wished it would turn out to be somebody else.
He admitted it was selfish to hope it was somebody else that had died and not Nicola.
But that would have meant some other family was suffering, he said.
"You don't want anyone dead," he said.
Mr Furlong said that, while at her funeral, he was asking people to look at a photograph of Nicola because the picture showed her eyes and her smile.
It was her eyes and her smile that would light up a room when she entered, said the grieving father.
He was interviewed with Nicola's mother Angie and Nicola's sister Andrea on RTE News about the horrific event.
Nicola (21), a native of Co Wexford who was studying in Japan, was found dead on the floor of a hotel room in Tokyo just over three weeks ago.
The chief suspect behind Nicola's death has admitted strangling her but denies that he meant to kill her.
The 19-year-old American, who cannot be named, has been captured on the CCTV of a Tokyo hotel, wheeling the student to his room in a wheelchair at around 1am.
The recording appears to show her unconscious in the wheelchair and police are continuing to work on the theory that her drink had been spiked.
Toxicology reports are expected in about a week's time.
"I had hoped that nobody had hurt her. But then we heard what had actually happened and it was worse," her mother Angie said.
Sister Andrea said: "I don't know what to feel because it's not real. Someone took my sister from me but I'm not mad at them because it hasn't registered.
"I can say it and I can talk about it but it's just not real and it won't be, I'd say, until the trial."
The murder suspect, who is being held in custody in Japan, has admitted that he pressed her neck with his hands but insisted that he did not intend to kill her, according to police sources.
A second man, James Blackston (23), is no longer a suspect in her death.
But he has been held in custody in relation to a separate assault charge regarding Nicola's friend.
The Furlong family has expressed its confidence in the Tokyo police's ability to bring a successful prosecution.
In Nicola's native Curracloe, the community has rallied to support the family and a bank account for donations in support of expenses they are likely to incur from travelling to a court case in the Japanese capital has been set up.
The family has been told that the formal court process is likely to get under way next month and that a trial date would be set down for about six months after that.
Money raised in aid of the family that does not go towards expenses will be channelled into a Nicola Furlong scholarship.
"The plan is to sponsor a student to go to DCU in her name or something like that -- to keep her name alive and hopefully some girl will benefit from it in the future," said Nicola's uncle Denis Corrigan.
Donations can be made to the Nicola Furlong Memorial Account at Bank of Ireland in Wexford -- account number 9738 2577, sort code 90-67-18.