Florida: Mural dedicated to Lyra McKee defaced

A mural dedicated to Lyra McKee has been vandalised in the US state of Florida.

The journalist died after being struck by a bullet fired during a riot in Londonderry in 2019.

The mural in Orlando was defaced with a swastika and anti-LGBTQ graffiti.

Unveiled in 2019, the mural was a tribute to Ms McKee, who had visited Orlando in 2017, a year after a gunman opened fire at a gay nightclub in the city, killing 49 people.

The mural was at the Zebra Youth Centre.

The group's executive director, Heather Wilkie, told BBC News NI that "due to the political climate in Florida, it was not surprising, I would say, but it was certainly very scary.

"We felt like our safety was placed in jeopardy.

"We'd been lucky at Zebra - our murals had not be defaced so far - but we have partner organisations that have had similar issues happen with their murals and property."

'Lyra's mission'

Ms Wilkie said she had met Ms McKee when she had visited Orlando and the Zebra centre and said that Lyra had subsequently described it as "one of her most impactful experiences".

"I tell that story a lot about Lyra," she said.

"We have that mural there and it's very noticeable on a very popular highway and there are a lot of LBGT-focused murals on the street, so a lot of people come by just to take photos with the murals.

"I do the best I can to share that story and keep Lyra's mission as an LGBT activist - it seems like that was really a focus for Lyra - so we try to keep that alive."

Ms Wilkie said police were "very much on it" in terms of investigating the attack on the mural.

"They're actually identifying this as a hate crime due to the nature of the language that was painted and some of the symbols," she said.

"They've been very good about trying to get the security cameras' footage all around the area from every angle to try and identify who it is."

'Absolutely disgusting'

After Ms McKee's death, Orlando's council passed a resolution offering sympathy to the people of the city to Ms McKee's partner Sara Canning, family and friends.

Member of the Florida House of Representatives, Anna Vishkaee Eskamani, described the mural defacement as "absolutely disgusting".

Ms McKee spoke of her visit, with a delegation from the UK, in 2017 at the TEDxStormontWomen event.

She said she had been reticent about visiting a mosque during her time in Orlando.

"I hated myself for much of my life because of what religion taught me about people like me and when I stopped hating myself I started hating religion," she said.

However, Ms McKee said she was surprised by her interaction with the mosque, which had led the response to the club shooting and had condemned it.

In a social media post, Zebra Youth said it would not allow the vandalism by a "hate group" to deter the group.

"Zebra Youth stands strong in our dedication to empowering LGBTQ+ youth to become healthy, productive, and self-sufficient individual," the group added.

"We will never allow hate to win!"