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Nuns, Families Grieve Bomb Deaths, IRA Conveys Its Regrets

July 25, 1990 GMT

MIDDLETOWN, Northern Ireland (AP) _ A small, aging band of nuns grieved as a family Wednesday for a sister killed by chance by an IRA bomb along with three police officers.

The Royal Ulster Constabulary in Armagh said it had detained two men for questioning but gave no other information about the investigation. Detectives told Britain’s domestic news agency, Press Association, they were searching for seven men thought to be behind the Tuesday afternoon attack.

Sister Fiona Fullham, regional superior of the Sisters of St. Louis, said Wednesday, ″I would pray that all those in Northern Ireland who have been involved in violence would try to think of the human face of the people who have died and who are dying, and of the families who are suffering needlessly all these years..

″I would say, please stop. Please stop.″

The explosion killed Sister Catherine Dunne, 37; Constable William James Hanson, 37, and reserve officers Joshua Cyril Willis, 35, and David Sterritt, 34.

Nearly 2,800 people have died in political and sectarian violence in the British province since 1969, including 273 police officers. Sister Catherine was the first nun.

The Irish Republican Army said it set off the half-ton bomb hidden beneath a rural road near Armagh, but left it to its Sinn Fein political wing to express regret.

″Our sorrow at these deaths is genuine and profound, but will be abused by our political opponents who will cynically exploit yesterday’s events for their own political purpose,″ Martin McGuinness, a Sinn Fein leader in Londonderry, said.

The officiers, in one car, were killed outright. Sister Catherine was in an oncoming car and died of injuries at a hospital.

A passenger in her car, social worker Cathy McCann, 25, was reported in satisfactory condition Wednesday, but still unaware her friend had died.

Wednesday’s statement of regret, similar to one issued when the IRA killed a 20-year-old Catholic girl in Warrenpoint in April 1989, was rejected in advance by Irish and British politicians and Protestant and Catholic leaders.

Killing Catholics is particularly embarrassing for the IRA. Although condemned by the church, the IRA claims to be protector of the 600,000 Catholics in the Protestant-dominated province.

″If I hear one more deeply regrets statement from the IRA I think I shall take to the streets with a gun myself,″ said British lawmaker Anthony Beaumont-Dark of the governing Conervative Party.

The IRA unit in North Armagh took responsiblity for the blast. It sent a message to news media saying the nun was the victim of ″unforeseen and fluke circumstances.″

Funeral services for Hanson and Willis were set for Thursday. Sterritt and Sister Catherine will be buried Friday.

Sister Corina Muldoon, director of St. Joseph’s School, remembered Sister Catherine as a lively woman, an enthusiastic swimmer and jogger.

″At this time when vocations are less and less, and our communities are getting older and older, a young sister is quite a treasure,″ she told reporters.

The community, in Middletown since 1875, has 16 members.

″It’s only when it comes home to your own door that you appreciate what death by violence is like,″ Sister Fiona said. ″ ... When it’s one of your own, you really realize what it must be like for the families of each one who has died by violence in Northern Ireland.″

In Dublin, Irish Foreign Minister Gerry Collins on Wednesday expressed revulsion at the killings and said, ″I hope that the overwhelming reaction to this outrage will cause those who support the IRA and their actions to stop doing so, once and for all.″

Des O’Malley, leader of the Progressive Democrats, the junior partner in Ireland’s government, said Sister Catherine’s death would have a special impact.

″It shouldn’t have to, but this brings home the daily sufferings of people in Northern Ireland more forcibly than would otherwise be the case,″ he said.

After Wednesday’s news conference, the sisters at St. Louis Convent served sandwiches and tea, and Sister Corina apologized because they could not be more hospitable.

Eight miles away in Caledon, a grave was being dug outside St. John’s Anglican Church for Willis.

He and his fellow officers ″will be forgotten next week, but not by their families,″ said the Rev. Frank Beamish, who had known Willis for 29 years.

He prepared Willis for confirmation, officiated at his marriage, baptized his sons David, 4, and Andrew, 1, and worked with him as a church warden and member of the choir.

″It’s shattering,″ Beamish said.