Speaking to the Irish Daily Mail, Radu Floricel (pictured), 40, a native of Romania, has recounted his experience being interrogated by police over the death of Ashling Murphy. He has since been eliminated from enquiries
A man who was wrongly suspected of murdering Ashling Murphy said he thought someone was playing a prank on him when police called to his house in the hours after the young woman’s murder.
Speaking to the Irish Daily Mail, Radu Floricel, 40, a native of Romania, said he realised only at the garda station that he was being questioned about her killing and ‘couldn’t believe it’.
Mr Floricel was arrested on Wednesday in connection with the killing of Ashling Murphy, 23, a local primary school teacher, who was fatally assaulted while she went for a run along the canal bank in Tullamore.
However, Mr Floricel was released from custody on Thursday night and eliminated from Garda enquiries.
Yesterday, Mr Floricel, a father of one, described the nightmarish moment he was arrested, the repeated questions by gardaí, and how his resemblance to a mystery cyclist – now another suspect in the case – wrongly landed him at the centre of the investigation.
But gardaí eventually confirmed that he had been shopping in Centra at the time that Ms Murphy was murdered.
Mr Floricel said he has already told his solicitor that he wants to sue An Garda Síochána and said he wanted to reveal his story to the Irish Daily Mail so that the public understands that he is an innocent man after he received vile threats online.
Ashling Murphy, 23, was killed on Wednesday afternoon along the banks of the Grand Canal
Jane Lowry 19, who played hurling with Ashling Murphy for Kilcormac Killoughey lays flowers with other floral tributes left near to the Grand Canal in Tullamore, County Offaly, where Ashling Murphy was murdered on Wednesday evening
Gardaí released a statement on Thursday confirming his innocence and booked him into a hotel for the night to protect him from people who wrongly believed he killed Ms Murphy.
Mr Floricel, originally from Transylvania in central Romania, recalled that he had visited the canal hours before the murder and had come back to his home in Tullamore, which he shares with his mother, Carmen, and sister, Neira.
Shortly before 4pm that day, he wanted to go shopping and the husband of his neighbour agreed to drive him to Centra.
While he was in Centra, an unknown assailant murdered Ms Murphy along the canal.
Gardaí rushed to get footage of the area and found video from an apartment block which showed a man cycling into the town centre from the canal just after the murder.
It is understood that Radu was wrongly identified as the cyclist and gardaí called to his house.
‘I came to the door and two gardaí started asking me all these questions. Where was I today? Was I along the canal? I couldn’t remember exactly at what time I was on the canal. They arrested me then.
‘Really, I thought it was a joke. I looked around, like, thinking this is a prank, someone is doing this for a joke, but then I could see it was real,’ he said.
He claimed a search of the house ‘had messed up the home’.
His sister Neira protested her brother’s innocence and tried to plead with gardaí to stop the search. She too was arrested.
As Mr Floricel was being driven away, he recalled how he walked through fields every day to feed some horses.
‘I thought: “Maybe that is it – I make videos of the horses, because I love horses and I thought maybe they think I killed one of the horses and I will explain myself.”’
lanna Norris (nine) and her mother Jennifer Collins (second left) attend a vigil at Leinster House, Dublin, on Friday for the murdered Ashling Murphy who died after being attacked while she was jogging along the Grand Canal in Tullamore, County Offaly, on Wednesday
People leave candles and flowers at a make-shift shrine during a vigil at Leinster House, Dublin, on Friday for the murdered Ashling Murphy who died after being attacked while she was jogging along the Grand Canal in Tullamore, County Offaly, on Wednesday
At Tullamore Garda Station, he was asked if he killed a young woman on the canal that day.
‘I just couldn’t believe this was happening. I said: “Of course I didn’t.” They kept asking me at what time I was on the canal and I was trying to think when exactly, but I wasn’t sure and didn’t want to give the wrong answer.’
They took all his clothes for forensic examination, and took more of his clothes from his home. They also searched for a bicycle but couldn’t find one.
‘None of the clothes I am wearing now are my own. They were all given to me by the gardaí, I haven’t even been able to change yet,’ Mr Floricel said.
He described the gardaí as ‘professional’ in their questioning, but said they ‘seemed convinced that I was the murderer and that is how they were questioning me’.
He explained to them that a neighbour’s husband had taken him to Centra at the time of the murder and detectives called to her house, in the same housing estate, to question her and her husband. The couple confirmed that Mr Floricel was in Centra at the time of the murder.
Still, the questioning continued.
Garda at the Grand Canal in Tullamore, County Offaly on Friday, where Ashling Murphy was murdered on Wednesday evening. Ashling died after being attacked while she was jogging along the canal bank at Cappincur at around 4pm on Wednesday
Members of the Garda water unit search a section of the Grand Canal in Tullamore, County Offaly on Friday, where Ashling Murphy was murdered on Wednesday evening
‘There was so many sessions – two hours, three hours, the same questions over and over and over. Where was I that day? At what time was I along the canal? Did I know this woman?’
Detectives then played him the video footage of the cyclist.
‘I could see that the guy in the video was bigger than me. He was darker than me, but I could also see that from some certain angle, he kind of looked like me. His hair was different also. I explained all that to them and said that it’s not me but that someone is clearly mistaken because of some similarity.’
He also explained that he has a titanium plate in his leg and another plate in his arm that prevent him from cycling and, also, that he doesn’t own a bike.
By then, gardaí had left the home of his neighbour, so she called the station to confirm that he was unable to cycle and didn’t own a bike.
After hours of questioning on Wednesday, he was placed in a holding cell in the garda station.
‘I could only get ten minutes’ sleep at a time because the gardaí kept coming to my cell to check on me,’ he said.
The questioning continued on Thursday.
Local people attend a vigil in memory of Ashling Murphy in Tullamore Town Park, County Offaly, on Friday. Ashling Murphy was murdered on Wednesday evening
Candles are pictured after a vigil in memory of Ashling Murphy in Tullamore town Park
‘There was a huge number of gardaí in the station. They had come down from Dublin and everything. I was really in shock. I couldn’t believe that I was at the centre of this.’
Eventually, he was taken back to his holding cell. He claimed that by now, gardaí had confirmed that he was in Centra at the time of the murder and had re-examined the video footage.
‘Two gardaí came to my cell. I could hear one of them say: “You tell him.” They told me that I was going to be released. Then I came out and some of the gardaí apologised to me and thanked me for helping the investigation. Some of them even hugged me. There was so many gardaí looking at me all the way down the corridor.’
He and his family have high praise for his legal aid solicitor, Donal Farrelly, who ensured that the gardaí issued a press release stating that the man in custody was no longer a suspect.
But by then, photos of Mr Floricel were circulating on social media, with numerous people threatening to kill him. They wrote threatening comments on his Facebook page and said they hoped he would be killed in prison.
‘They even sent threatening messages to my solicitor. It was crazy, so the gardaí said that I shouldn’t go home, that they would book me a hotel for the night until everything calmed down.’
He spent Thursday night in a Tullamore hotel. On Friday, his solicitor dropped him to the family home after a consultation.
He was greeted at the door by his mother, Carmen, who embraced his warmly, and by his neighbour, the woman who helped to prove his innocence.
TIMELINE OF INVESTIGATION INTO THE DEATH OF ASHLING MURPHY
Ashling Murphy, 23, finishes teaching in a local primary school and goes jogging along the canal bank at Cappincur, Tullamore, Co. Offaly, where she is attacked.
Two young women, who were also out running, witness the attack and race to a nearby house to call gardaí.
At the scene, officers discover Ashling with serious injuries. Medical attention is provided but despite the efforts of the medical team, she dies. A murder investigation is launched.
The crime scene and the surrounding Cappincur/canal walk area is cordoned off by gardaí.
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 12 – 7.41PM
The Garda Press Office confirms they are investigating a fatal assault on a woman in her 20s and her body remains at the scene.
Gardaí say a man in his 40s has been arrested in connection with the incident and is being detained at Tullamore Garda Station.
It is announced that an incident room has been established at Tullamore Garda Station under a Senior Investigating Officer. A family liaison officer is liaising with Ashling’s family.
Gardaí appeal to anyone with information to come forward, particularly anyone in the area before 4pm that day.
THURSDAY, JANUARY 13 –10.30AM
Superintendent Eamonn Curley of Tullamore Garda Station releases Ashling’s name and says she is a 23-year-old teacher at Durrow National School, and is from the Blueball area. He confirms her injuries are believed to be consistent with an assault.
The precise location of the incident is given – between Boland’s Lough and Digby Bridge.
Supt Curley confirms a team of over 50 gardaí have been assigned to the investigation, including officers from specialist units such as the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
‘No stone will be left unturned in bringing the perpetrator of this crime to justice,’ he says.
He adds: ‘At this stage there is no information that the victim and her killer were known to each other. From inquiries we have carried out to date, we believe this crime was committed by one male who acted alone.’
Supt Curley says gardaí are keeping an open mind in the investigation.
THURSDAY, JANUARY 13 – 5.14PM
Gardaí confirm a postmortem has been completed, the results of which are not being released for operational reasons.
They say a man in his 40s is still detained at Tullamore Garda Station under Section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act. An appeal is made for any information about a Falcon Storm mountain bike with straight handlebars and distinctive yellow/green front wheel forks.
THURSDAY, JANUARY 13 – LATER THAT EVENING
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris visits Tullamore Garda Station and says all the resources of An Garda Síochána will be made available to the investigation, adding that such crimes are ‘relatively rare’ in Irish society.
THURSDAY, JANUARY 13 – 10.55PM
An updated statement from the Garda Press Office reveals the male who had been arrested and detained has now been released.
It says he has been eliminated from enquiries and is not a suspect. The man’s solicitor, Donal Farrelly, says the man has been brought to safe accommodation for the night as his name and images were shared on social media and he was subjected to abuse and threats.
FRIDAY, JANUARY 14 – 7.46AM
Gardaí renew appeals for anyone with information about the attack or the bicycle to come forward.
FRIDAY, JANUARY 14 – 10AM
Former Assistant Garda Commissioner for Dublin, Dr Pat Leahy, tells RTÉ Radio 1 that the investigation could go in ‘multiple directions’.
He says investigations are not ‘linear processes’ and ‘around-the-clock’ investigative activities always continue in such cases.
Solicitor Donal Farrelly speaks to the media again, saying his client has gone into hiding for his own safety, that his life has become ‘unbearable’ and he was ‘absolutely vilified’ after being identified online.
FRIDAY, JANUARY 14 – 4PM
By now the killer has been on the loose for 48 hours while vigils for Ashling are held nationwide.
FRIDAY, JANUARY 14 – 5.37PM
Gardaí release another statement saying they are making ‘significant progress’ but not confirming any specific details for operational reasons.
They say the Murphy family are appreciative of and overwhelmed by the national outpouring of support. The family have said they now need privacy, space and time to process Ashling’s death.
Gardaí have established a phone line (057-9357060) so people can contact the investigation team with any information.
Reporting by the Irish Daily Mail