Fergal McCusker, 29, from Maghera was killed at the back of a youth club on January 18, 1998.
The loyalist group the LVF at the time claimed responsibility for the killing.
No one has ever been prosecuted or convicted over his death.
His mother Christina remembered her son in a statement to the first inquest into his death, which opened in Belfast on Monday.
In a statement read to the court by her family’s barrister Mark Bassett, Ms McCusker recalled the love her son had for his nieces and nephews, saving the chocolate from his lunch box every day to divide between them.
“Fergal was a son, brother and uncle who adored his nieces and nephews and they adored him,” she said in her statement.
She said he loved sport, especially watching Kung Fu, as well as playing soccer and gaelic football, and Freddy Krueger movies.
He played for Maghera Strollers and teams in both Northern Ireland and in Boston in the United States where he had been living and working as a builder.
“Fergal had many friends from both sides of the community who enjoyed his company and personality, he was liked by so many and was very popular,” she said in her statement.
“He had stayed with his sister for a while, and these were extremely happy times …. we fondly remember him coming home from work and having a chocolate bar left in his lunchbox, every single evening he cut it into equal parts and made sure it was in even parts so they all had the same.
“This was just his nature, so caring and always putting the happiness of everyone else before him, especially the happiness of his family.
“Fergal was the third oldest child and the bonds we shared with him as a family were broken so abruptly.
“We are thankful that we were blessed with such a beautiful caring person even if it was just for a short time, we know so many people who feel lucky to have known him, he touched lives like an angel here on earth. He is so greatly missed, and will always be.
“To have Fergal taken from us so early in his life means we grieve twice as much for him, we grieve the hole his death has left us with, and secondly we grieve the future that was taken from him.
“He is missed, loved and never forgotten.”
Earlier in the hearing, counsel for the coroner Paddy McGurgan said the inquest had been listed for many months, but issues with delays around the disclosure of some material delayed the start.
The inquest has opened in a modular format during which the available evidence will be heard while efforts remain ongoing over disclosure of other material.
The hearing was told it seems likely Ms McCusker was shot dead at back of Fairhill Youth Centre off Tirkane Road in or around 1.30am on January 18 1998.
He had spent time working in the United States, returning to Maghera on January 3.
While he was described as single at the time of his death, he had a girlfriend in the United States, who the inquest heard had been fully expecting him to return.
In terms of his final movements, the inquest heard he had played football during the day on January 17 before going to Regan’s Bar and then Maggie’s Bar in the centre of Maghera where he stayed until shortly after 1am.
The inquest heard it is believed he started walking home, a route that would have taken him past the youth club, when he was confronted by three individuals, and evidence indicates he was shot dead at the back of the building.
Police received a report of a shooting, the inquest heard, and police contacted two priests asking them to attend the scene but both declined.
Police also did not attend the scene until first light out of concern that it was an attempt to lure police into an attack.
While the inquest heard the army had been requested to fly a helicopter over the scene, but the request was declined due to bad weather, with meteorological evidence suggesting there had been heavy rain that night.
Police attended the scene and Mr McCusker’s body was discovered just before 9am.
The LVF claimed responsibility for killing in an anonymous call to press.
A police investigation was conducted, and suspects were arrested and interviewed but no one has ever been prosecuted or convicted for any involvement in Mr McCusker’s death.
In the subsequent years, the McCusker family have voiced concerns about the police investigation, submitting a complaint to the Police Ombudsman in 2004.
The inquest is set to look at the circumstances of Mr McCusker’s death, but cannot examine the subsequent police investigation.
The inquest heard that the LVF claimed Fergal was linked to paramilitary activity, however police did not find any evidence to support that claim.
Mr McCusker was one of a number of Catholic men killed by the LVF in supposed retaliation for the killing of LVF leader Billy Wright by the INLA in the Maze prison in December 1997.
The inquest continues.Tags: