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'She grew up with us, we'll never forget her'

THE not guilty verdict was issued thousands of miles away, but the shock and disbelief was felt most closely in the place Michaela McAreavey called home.

The Co Tyrone village of Ballygawley is GAA country, where everybody knows the Hartes.

It was where the 27-year-old -- the only daughter of county Gaelic football manager Mickey Harte-- had grown up, got married and where she was laid to rest.

So walking down the main street in the village and there was a strong chance of talking to someone either related to or who knows the well-respected family.

Among them was Colm McCann, a relation of Michaela's mother, Marion.

"Nothing will bring Michaela back, I know that," he said.



Disappointed

"I am just so disappointed for the Harte family. If those fellas aren't guilty, fair enough, but what now?"

He also described the way her husband John McAreavey was treated in court as "disrespectful".

"Locally, people thought the whole proceedings came across as strange," he said.

"The whole thing seemed to be treated like a joke from the start.

"I know it's another country, but John seemed to be treated in such a disrespectful way -- it's just so sad," he added.

Joanne Donnelly (34) said the small, close-knit community will continue to support both families.

"Everybody knows the Hartes. You can only imagine how it would impact anybody," she said.

"Your heart goes out for the whole family. Just prayers can get them through it now."

Locals say Michaela will never be forgotten by the people of Ballygawley.

Images of her as a six-year-old still hang in her old classroom at St Malachy's Primary School.

Among those who sat alongside her in that classroom was 28-year-old Owen Mallon.

He said: "I just can't believe it. If they had got justice it would have been great for them, at least they could have moved on a wee bit," he said.

"It was a big shock when she died. Everybody around this town is close to them, they are so well liked, well known."



Suffered

Asked what impact it will have on the Harte and McAreavey families, the joiner added: "I think it will be harder now, all right. It is just bad, they have suffered enough."

Just a mile outside the village is St Malachy's chapel, in the parish of Ballymacilroy, where John walked his sweetheart down the aisle, and said his final farewells to her just weeks later.

It's here where Michaela, the woman he described as "my best friend, my rock", now rests in a grave at the back of the cemetery.

A single cross with a striking picture of his bride of 12 days stands as to mark her final resting place.

Among those paying their respects was one woman, a friend of the Harte family, who shook her head.

"She was their only daughter, such a fine, wonderful young woman. The news is just devastating for the family and all of us who know them.

"She has gone and no-one is in jail for her murder."

hnews@herald.ie