Off-duty police officer John Caldwell has ‘suffered life-changing injuries’ after being shot multiple times by masked gunmen, the chairman of Northern Ireland’s Police Federation has said.
DCI Caldwell was attacked by gunmen in front of his young son after coaching children at football in Omagh, Co Tyrone, on Wednesday evening.
Mr Caldwell was loading balls into the boot of his car when he was attacked by two gunmen at around 8pm.
After sustaining fire, Mr Caldwell ran a short distance and fell to the ground where the attackers continued to fire at him as children ran in terror to get to safety, police said.
He currently remains in a critical but stable condition in hospital after the attack at the Youth Sports Centre.
He had surgery on the night of the shooting and it is understood the 48-year-old underwent further surgery on Thursday.
Three men – aged 38, 45, and 47- were arrested in connection with the incident on Thursday and remain in custody.
Police later arrested a 22-year-old man in connection with the shooting early on Friday morning.
The force said the arrest was made under the Terrorism Act and the man is currently being questioned by detectives in Musgrave serious crime suite.
DCI Caldwell is well-known in the local area for leading investigations into high-profile sectarian murders, paramilitary groups and organised crime gangs.
PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Mark McEwan said the dissident republican group the New IRA are said to be the ‘primary focus’ of the attempted murder probe.
But he said police were keeping an open mind and will continue to work against those with ‘callous disregard’ for the community.
Chief constable Simon Byrne said Mr Caldwell has been a valued police officer for 26 years and was ‘committed to public service as a senior investigating officer supporting victims and their families in bringing offenders to justice’.
He added: ‘John is held in the highest esteem within our organisation. He is a credit to his family and to the police service.
‘And of course our thoughts are with John and his family as he fights for his life in hospital today.’
Liam Kelly, the head of the federation, said Det Ch Insp Caldwell always wanted to give back to society.
‘He’s been involved in coaching with children over a long period of time and this is how he’s been rewarded by terrorists – it’s an absolute disgrace,’ he added.
PC McEwan said there were ‘many other young people, children’ waiting to be picked up by their parents when the attack on Mr Caldwell took place.
‘And those children ran for cover in sheer terror towards the centre,’ he told reporters.
He said: ‘The two gunmen, who were dressed in dark clothing, carried out this cowardly attack and left the scene on foot. At least two other vehicles were struck by their volley of shots.
‘We believe the gunmen fled the scene in a small, dark-coloured vehicle shortly after 8pm. We believe this vehicle was abandoned and set on fire in Racolpa Road, Omagh.
‘We want to hear from anyone who was in the area or who witnessed what happened to get in touch with any information that could help with our investigation.’
Christos Gaitatzis, the principal of Omagh High School whose students were at the scene of the shooting, told BBC Radio Ulster: ‘I can only imagine how difficult it must be for the youngsters this morning, waking up in the aftershock of what they experienced last night.
‘I feel that those people affected here last night were my children, were my family.
‘We really need to get together as a community in order to make sure that these types of instances, that contain violence in the most heinous way I can describe, have to be pushed away from our community.
‘(We have to) make sure that those individuals are caught and isolated out of our community to make sure that Omagh remains the town that it always has been – a town that is together, is coming together at all times, especially during difficult circumstances like this.’
The New IRA has been blamed for the killing of journalist Lyra McKee in Londonderry in 2019.
Last November, the group was also thought to be behind the attempted murder of two police officers in a bomb attack in Strabane, Co Tyrone.
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