LONDONDERRY, Northern Ireland – Relatives of 13 Catholic demonstrators shot to death by British troops on Northern Ireland's Bloody Sunday cried tears of joy Tuesday as an epic fact-finding probe ruled that their loved ones were innocent and the soldiers entirely to blame for the 1972 slaughter.
The investigation took 12 years and nearly 200 million pounds ($290 million), but the victims' families and the British, Irish and U.S. governments welcomed the findings as priceless to heal one of the gaping wounds left from Northern Ireland's four-decade conflict that left 3,700 dead.
Thousands of residents of LondonDerry — a predominantly Catholic city long synonymous with Britain's major mass killing from the Northern Ireland conflict — gathered outside the city hall to watch the verdict come in, followed by a lengthy apology from Prime Minister David Cameron in London that moved many locals long distrustful of British leaders.
The probe found that soldiers opened fire without justification at unarmed, fleeing civilians and lied about it for decades, refuting an initial British investigation that branded the demonstrators as Irish Republican Army bombers and gunmen.
Cameron, who was just 5 years old when the attack occurred, said it was "both unjustified and unjustifiable."
"I couldn't believe it, I was so overjoyed," said Kay Duddy, clutching the handkerchief used to swab blood from her 17-year-old brother's body that day. Jackie Duddy, the first of the 13 killed, was shot in the back.
"Never in my wildest dreams would I ever envisage a British prime minister would stand up in Parliament and tell the truth of what happened on Bloody Sunday," Duddy said. "David Cameron told the world and its mother that Jackie Duddy and the rest of the deceased and injured were innocent people. They were totally exonerated today," she said.
One by one, relatives of the 13 dead and 15 wounded went to a podium, huge black-and-white pictures of their dead or wounded relative displayed on a massive television screen. Each declared their relief that the demonstrators were found innocent and the elite soldiers of the Parachute Regiment solely to blame.
"Thirty-eight years ago a story went around the world ... that there was gunmen and bombers on our streets, and they were shot and killed. Today that lie has been uncovered," said Kate Nash, whose 19-year-old brother William was shot fatally once through the chest.
"Unjustified and unjustifiable. Those are the words we've been waiting to hear since January the 30th of 1972," said Tony Doherty, whose father, Patrick, was fatally shot as he crawled away from gunfire. The fact-finders rejected soldiers' claims that Doherty had been carrying a gun by digging up photos of Doherty seconds before he was hit and showing he was unarmed.