Drug feud victim Mark Lovell was shot up to 15 times by the gang that took his life.
It cannot be revealed that police believe the Newry murder was the work of war criminals looking to make money and protect their turf.
Sources say the 58-year-old father may not have been the original target as the gunmen took him away as a message to his son, Ebony Hughes.
“They say they went looking for Ebony. If he was there, fine and dandy, but everyone else would be,” a source said.
“That’s what you’re dealing with here. They are absolutely ruthless.”
Another source close to the victim’s family said the killers wanted to eliminate “everyone related to us.”
“It was the loss of a man’s life who did no harm to anyone. He wouldn’t harm a fly,” said a close relative.
“All he had was us, his wife, his mother and his dogs.”
Just last month, the PSNI issued an appeal to trace the murder victim’s son, Ebony Hughes, 36, over an “incident” in Newry in May.
They didn’t give details but said it was related to crime in the area, with police naming the case Operation Exposure.
Long before the murder, there were several attacks related to this bitter and now bloody feud, including an attempt on Lovell’s life in October. On that occasion a house in Dundalk that belonged to him was the target of a gunfight. Lovell, nicknamed “Chicken”, was hit but survived.
There are growing fears that he might not be the last to die in this feud.
Police have already said the killing in Ardcarn Park, Newry, at tea time on Thursday was a well-planned ambush.
Other details of the chain of events leading up to Lovell’s death have also surfaced.
He lived in the house with his wife Eileen, who was also threatened and told to leave Newry.
His killers were already waiting as he parked in front of the bungalow on top of a hill in the heart of a family estate.
Sources have said that two gunmen casually approached the car and opened fire.
The vehicle then rolled and struck nearby property, with the killers not leaving before making sure Lovell would not survive this time.
As the first shots rang out, his wife Eileen ran out of the house and was confronted with the horrific reality of what had just happened.
This was also confirmed by the results of an autopsy carried out yesterday.
Lovell, who friends say was not a high-level drug dealer, was shot up to 15 times.
“Mark was close to his son, Ebony, so he paid the price for standing by his son,” another source said.
“It won’t end here. These people are determined to catch Ebony and murder him. They won’t stop until they’ve tied him up.”
Fears that a drug war between rival gangs in Newry and South Armagh could spiral out of control were dealt with extensively in court last week when Lovell’s daughter Whitney Hughes emerged on serious drug charges.
Accused of a range of offences, including supplying heroin, it was heard she allegedly “plays a small role in a larger organized crime gang”.
The address given for the 30-year-old was the house in Newry that her father’s killers had already tracked down.
She was denied bail after a detective detailed the threats against her family members and the potential risk to the defendant herself.
“Two men went to her mother’s house and told her not to go back to Newry,” the officer said.
“Her father’s home was attacked in a shooting in Dundalk in October, killing and beating his dog.
“We believe there is an ongoing dispute over the supply of drugs in Newry and South Armagh.
“Releasing you there to an address identified by a rival faction is a risk we cannot manage.”
Earlier incidents leading up to the murder are likely to form part of the wider investigation into the feud and the hunt for Lovell’s killers, as they fear they may strike again.
It involves a nasty and sinister acid attack on a man in Newry seven months ago.
The victim suffered severe burns and a suspected broken arm when he was attacked by a gang.
Three months earlier, a 29-year-old man who sources say was a close friend of Ebony Hughes was lucky to survive a murder bid.
Colin “Collie” McDonald was shot three times in the legs in February after being lured into an industrial area in the city.
His would-be killers fled across the border, and the car they were using was found burning in a field.
In January, McDonald, of Drumalane Road, Newry, appeared in court accused of possessing a gun in suspicious circumstances a month earlier.
Police refused bail, saying the 29-year-old had “connections to organized crime” and feared he would flee the courts if released.
Now that Lovell has been murdered, many fear what the coming days, weeks and months will bring.
This includes the police, who have increased their patrols in the area, fearing reprisals.
“It was a brutal and senseless attack on a defenseless man. Those responsible have no moral compass,” said Superintendent Norman Haslett.
“The community doesn’t deserve to be in this position. The last thing anyone wants to see is retaliation.”
And that’s exactly what the community thinks is going to happen.
Another source said: “When it comes to drugs, anything is possible.
“They have taken over society and people are desensitized to all sorts of machinations, including murder.
“Someone else will end up dying, that’s the reality.”
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/crime/drugs-murder-sparks-revenge-hit-fears-as-son-may-have-been-the-real-target-42194301.html The drug murder triggers feelings of revenge because the son may have been the real target