Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell was gunned down on Wednesday night in County Tyrone.
He remains in hospital and has life-changing injuries.
DCI Caldwell, who volunteers as a coach with Beragh FC Under 15’s, a small football in a rural area just outside Omagh, was putting training gear into the boot of his car when he was attacked by two masked men.
He tried to run for cover when he was first struck.
His instinct was to run away from the young people who were there for training. He knew that stray bullets kill, so even as he looked death in the face, DCI Caldwell’s first thought was to protect others.
As he tried to escape the gunmen, he fell to the ground. The two masked men stood over him and fired two more shots.
This was an assassination attempt.
His son witnessed the murder attempt on his father and some of the Beragh Under 15’s also saw what happened.
Many of the children ran for cover in nearby bushes.
The cold and callous way this attempted murder was carried out had all the hallmarks of the Troubles.
If this had happened 30 years ago in Northern Ireland, nobody would have batted an eyelid.
Brutal shootings and attacks like this used to be the norm.
Until recently, PSNI officers could not be part of their communities; they would have to watch their every move because they were seen as targets by paramilitaries.
In recent times, police officers in the North are seen more in the communities they work in.
In Strabane now, where I’m originally from, you would regularly see officers in their uniforms in coffee shops, restaurants and takeaways.
They are a visible presence in the communities they work in, and that’s the way it should be.
When I was growing up you would never have seen this. Police officers couldn’t be part of the community, they had to watch their every move – but since the Good Friday Agreement, things have changed.
Shootings and bombings are no longer the norm.
Dissident Republicans don’t like this new normal though; they still see police officers or, as they call them, “members of the Crown Forces” as targets.
But they cannot win. They have no support.
The messages in a WhatsApp group I’m in with friends from home in the aftermath of this shooting went something like this:
“Scumbags. Imagine doing that in front of children”.
“Vermin. What are they trying to achieve?”
In Omagh Town Centre on Thursday, locals were also upset and angry. One woman said to me, “Do these animals who did this have no bloody children of their own?”
It’s hard to believe that brutal shootings, like the one in Omagh, used to be a daily occurrence – but Northern Ireland has moved on and nobody wants to go back to those dark days.