A young deer hunter got high on cocaine and alcohol and roamed through a town shooting at Gardai, civilians and buildings.
Out-of-control Stephen Dowling let off up to 9 shots of ammunition from a high-powered telescopic rifle in Glenties, Co Donegal in the early hours of February 22nd, 2020.
He shot at terrified Gardai missing them by inches, shot through cars and also shot into the windows and walls of three different houses during a hour-long escapade.
The 25-year-old father-of-one appeared at Letterkenny Circuit Court where he pleaded guilty to a range of charges on a night which was described in court as like “something from the Wild West.”
They include four charges of criminal damages and five charges of having possession of a weapon including a rifle and a hunting knife with intent to endanger life or cause damage to property.
The court heard how Dowling, of Burren Road, Carlow, was visiting Glenties with a cousin and uncle shooting deer after seeing an advert by a farmer culling deer on his land.
After a successful day shooting during which Dowling shot his first red deer, the men visited several pubs in the town including Sonny’s Bar, Leo’s Bar, Roddy’s Bar and the Highland’s Hotel.
The men drank several pints of beer and whiskey and Dowling also admitted to taking a half a gramme of cocaine which he bought for €100 in his native Carlow.
Dowling became increasingly agitated and had words with customers as well as barmen in a number of the pubs.
He was refused service in the Highlands Hotel because he was aggressive despite claims that he was staying there as a guest.
The men returned to Marguerite’s Bed and Breakfast where they were staying around midnight.
However, Dowling, who was staying in a room of his own, got changed back into his hunting clothing and recovered his high-powered Tikka 3X rifle from his car.
He then proceeded to go on the rampage in the town letting off up to seven shots.
The court how, despite being intoxicated earlier, Dowling stood up and marched like a soldier through the town while brandishing the high-powered rifle.
At one stage he got into the car of an employee of a local pizzeria, TJ Kalsi and was waving his rifle but then got out.
He then shot into the back windscreen of Mr Kalsi’s red BMW car with the bullet shattering when it hit his passenger seat headrest, whizzing past his head and exiting the windscreen.
A brave Mr Kalsi then tracked Dowling’s movements around the town.
Local man Edward Gallagher also got caught up in the crossfire and contacted Gardai with the call being replayed in evidence.
Shots can be heard as a nervous Mr Gallagher reports Dowling’s movements with the Garda operator warning Mr Gallagher not to follow the shooter.
Mr Gallagher replies “Trust me, I won’t be following him.”
The court was told that the nearest armed Garda unit was an hour away based in Milford and had been contacted.
Before that, a number of local uniformed and unarmed Gardai had gone onto the town’s Main Street in a bid to assess the situation.
The Gardai included Sgt Edward Griffin, Garda Louis Brown, Garda Edward Cassidy, Garda Kieran Cassidy, Garda Declan McBride and Garda Ronan Steede.
The Gardai devised a plan that one Garda car would come behind Dowling and another lead him out of the town and away from people.
Other Gardai were diverting traffic away from the town including a busload of teenagers who had attended a disco in Killybegs and were returning to Glenties.
All the time this was happening armed detectives Enda Jennings and Darren Carter were racing to the scene to confront the shooter.
When they arrived on the scene they took cover behind their unmarked patrol car and a marked patrol car to assess the situation.
At one stage Dowling crouched down behind a pillar and shot off two rounds, one hitting the windscreen of the patrol car and another hitting the front grill narrowing missing Gardai.
Dowling disappeared into a garden and Detective Jennings, who is trained in weapons use, realised that the shooter was not using a shotgun but an even more dangerous rifle which could kill at distance.
He managed to get onto higher ground and saw Dowling rummaging through his pockets looking for more ammunition.
He then revealed how Dowling suddenly put his hands in the armed with his rifle over his shoulder as Detective Carter approached him.
Detective Jennings tracked him from behind with both ordering him to get down on his knees.
At one stage Detective Jennings said he saw Dowling stumble and he initially thought the shooter was reaching for his gun and he thought he may have to shoot the suspect but realised then he had fallen and was not trying to get his gun.
The officers finally overpowered Dowling who was arrested but he claimed that it was another man in the area who was shooting, sending gardai into further fear for their lives.
Officers brought him to Ballyshannon Garda station where an incident room was set up by Detective Garda Allison Moore.
Initially, officers said they thought he had a bomb strapped to him because he had a ‘sound moderator’ strapped to his stomach.
Evidence was also given of how Dowling had shot at three local houses during his hour long rampage.
One family were standing outside their home listening to the commotion when they heard a gunshot and decided to go back inside.
The next morning they found a gunshot hole in the front of their home.
Another couple, the O’Donnells, from Church Road in the town had been out socialising with family.
When they returned they discovered their windows had been shot through and the bullets had penetrated walls and gone through a bathroom mirror.
All Gardai gave victim impact statements to court describing the night of carnage.
One Garda said it was simply a miracle that nobody was seriously hurt or killed.
Many revealed how they had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and had to take several weeks off work and were still dealing with the events of the night.
Taking to the witness stand, Dowling apologised to all his victims and said he never intended for anything to happen.
His barrister, Mr Colm Smith, SC, said his client would not have committed such acts had he not consumed both cocaine and such a large amount of alcohol.
He said Dowling was completing an apprenticeship as a welder and was also expecting his second child with his partner.
Judge John Aylmer adjourned the case for final sentencing until next week.