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25 Sept 2022

Gardaí feared for lives during 'wild west' shooting incident in Glenties

Stephen Dowling.

Stephen Dowling.

Gardaí feared for their lives during a terrifying armed stand-off in Glenties.

During the course of a scene described as ‘wild west actions’ in court, a man fired shots at Gardaí having shot a bullet through a car window and also at three houses.

Stephen Dowling (24), of Cois Abhainn, Burren Road, Carlow, was before Letterkenny Circuit Court on charges from the incidents in the early hours of February 22, 2020 at Mill Road, Glenties.

He was charged with five counts of possession of a firearm with intent; one count of possessing an offensive weapon, namely a hunting knife; and four counts of criminal damage.

Dowling, a father-of-one, has pleaded guilty to the charges.

Dowling, dressed in a white polo shirt, navy jacket and jeans, sat sombrely in court as the details were relayed before Judge John Aylmer.

Dowling was in Glenties on a hunting trip with two family members - who were unaware of what was happening - when he set out from a B&B where he was staying, with a .256 remington calibre t3x bolt-action rifle over his shoulder.

Detective Garda Enda Jennings told how he feared that he would never see his family again. Dowling fired two shots in Detective Garda Jennings’ direction.

“I knew that I was up against a man with a superior firearm; I was outgunned and the odds were stacked against me,” Detective Garda Jennings recalled.

“I had to do my duty to protect the public and my unarmed colleagues.

“I was sure that I would never see my family again and thought of the suffering and hardship they would have.”

As he and Detective Garda Darren Carter closed in on Dowling, Detective Garda Jennings said he could ‘see madness in his eyes’.

Detective Garda Jennings said he had his finger on the trigger as he believed Dowling was going to shoot Detective Garda Carter.

“But for the grace of God, that didn’t happen,” he said.

Letterkenny courthouse

Tejender Kalsi, who was an employee of Pal’s Pizza at the time ,reported that Dowling got into his car, waving a firearm and demanding to be brought ‘somewhere’. When asked to leave the car, he ‘got out shouting profanities’.

Kalsi recognised Dowling from an earlier visit to Pal’s Pizza and noted that he had changed into a ‘hunter-type coat’ and was carrying what he believed to be a shotgun.

A recording of a 999 call, made by Edward Gallagher, who reported a man walking down the street carrying a rifle, was played in court. Six shots were heard being fired during the call.

The first shot was fired from outside Pal’s Pizza in the direction of the Garda station. The bullet struck a passing car - driven by Mr Kalsai - shattering the back window with fragments going through the passenger seat headrest and exiting the front windscreen.

Between 00:19 and 00:25, six shots were fired.

Dowling fired shots at three houses. Dowling fired two shots through an upstairs window of the O’Donnell household, which backs onto Church Road. The bullets went through a bedroom window and went trough the walls of an en-suite and adjoining bedroom. The damage caused totally €933.25.

On Tullard Road, the McLoone family were at the front door of their home after hearing shots. They saw Dowling on open ground on Church Road. They reported hearing something skid across the driveway. A bullet struck the wall, removing a piece of plaster.

At the Curran house, a vacant property on Church Road, Dowling fired a shot through a bedroom window, with the bullet piercing through a wardrobe. The damage caused cost €650 to repair.

Uniformed Gardaí were dispatched and instructed to turn traffic and pedestrians away from the scene that was unfolding.

The incident took place in Glenties

A large volume of traffic, including a bus full of teenagers, were returning from a teenage disco in Killybegs.

At the same time with a large armed Garda presence was at the scene of a serious incident in Letterkenny.

The nearest armed unit was almost an hour away with Detective Garda Jennings and Detective Garda Carter making their way from the neighbouring Garda District.

Detective Garda Jennings saw Dowling ‘carrying a firearm and roaring obscenities’.  Dowling, he said, was walking with a ‘dangerous deposition’. Twice, the court heard, Dowling raised his firearm and appeared to take aim at Gardai.

“The situation was tense,” Detective Garda Jennings said. “It was highly tense and frighting.”

Gardaí in a marked patrol car got out as they were in fear of being shot.

Dowling, who was now on the Mill Road, fired a shot towards the patrol car. A fragment lodged in the bumper, a couple of feet from where officers were standing.

Dowling took aim across a pillar and fired another shot. “The patrol car wasn’t offering sufficient cover, so we took cover behind a stone wall,” Detective Garda Jennings ad.

Detective Gardaí Jennings and Carter, armed with pistols, closed in on Dowling.

Detective Garda Jennings said: “It was a windy and rainy night and we relied on our instinct to move. Detective Garda Carter made his way among the road and I went up to a higher point in a garden.”

Detective Garda Carter shouted ‘armed Gardaí” and ordered Dowling, who had his hands up with a rifle strapped to his shouder, to get on the ground.

At one stage, when Dowling slipped, Detective Garda Jennings, believed that he was going to shoot Detective Garda Carter.

“I was prepared to shoot him,” Detective Garda Jennings said. “He started shouting that a man called Brian was shooting. We didn’t know for sure what was going on. We rushed in and disarmed him.”

Dowling was arrested and was in possession of a hunting knife, which was attached to his belt, and a sound moderator. Gardaí initially feared that the sound moderator was a ‘bomb of some sort’.

When conveyed to Ballyshannon Garda Station, Dowling was interviewed on four occasions by Gardaí. He said he had ‘little recollection’ of what had happened.

Dowling, who held a firearms licence since he was aged 17. recalled discharging his firearm, but had no idea why. He did not recall firing the shots at the car or the various properties. He admitted to taking alcohol and taking half-a-gramme of cocaine.

The court heard that Dowling arrived in Glenties in the company of an uncle and a cousin having answered an advertisement from a local farmer who was having trouble with deer.

On the day of February 21, 2020, Dowling shot and killed a red deer at nearby Mass.

Following their hunting expedition, the men visited a number of premises in Glenties. They were staying at Marguerite's B&B.

Dowling consumed two pints of Heineken in Roddy’s bar, between two and four pints in the Highland Hotel and between two and four pints in Leo’s Bar. When they entered Sonny’s Bar, the men had another pint each before beginning to drink shorts.

Ms Patricia McLaughlin BL, Counsel for the State, said that Dowing became ‘very agitated and aggressive’ towards people in the bar, particularly a barmaid and a customer who was playing darts.

The men left Sonny’s at 11:06pm and walked to the Highlands Hotel. When Dowling came in, he was ‘loud and hard to understand’. Due to his intoxicated state, the barman decided not to serve Dowling, who threw money across the bar and insisted that he be served.

After failing to convince the barman that he was a resident at the Highlands Hotel, Dowling left the premises.

Down the Main Street, Dowling stopped at another B&B, where a wake was being he. Dowling had a conversation with a man before ‘stumbling’ down the street.

The court heard that CCTV footage captures Dowling ‘falling to the floor’ as he entered Pal’s Pizza.

He was seen on CCTV leaving Marguerite's B&B having changed into hunting clothes.

He encountered some residents on the street, many of whom made reports to Gardaí. 

Employees at some premises from which Dowling had been ejected were fearful that he was returning to exact some form of revenge.

Witnesses described Dowling as resembling a ’soldier marching up the street’.

Counsel for Dowling, Mr Colm Smith SC, said the actions were ‘clearly outrageous’.

“It was reckless and an act of tyranny against the community and the Gardaí, who are there to protect the community. He will forever love with his actions, which were out of lunacy and intoxication’.

Mr Smith said Dowling - who has no previous convictions - was ‘eternally grateful’ to the armed Gardaí who, he said, would have been ‘justified in taking his life given the significant provocation’.

The accused’s father, who was present in court, said the incident had ‘changed his son’.

References were handed in from Dowling’s employer - he is an apprentice welder - and from the Raging Bull Boxing Club. The court heard how Dowling had saved the life of a young child who was being attacked by a pit bull dog in Carlow.

Dowling took to the stand to apologise for what he had done and said he would pay for the damage. €1000 had been paid to date and a further €500 was brought to court.

“I didn’t mean to do any harm,” Dowling said.

The case was adjourned to next Tuesday, February 1, for sentencing.

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