A man has been shot dead in front of children as he sat in a parked car in west Belfast, in what police are describing as a “disgraceful murder”.
Panicked parents rushed to the scene, in the vicinity of three schools, when they heard gunshots as children left their classes at about 3.15pm.
It is understood the man was waiting to pick up a pupil.
“The thoughts and prayers of the principal and all the staff are with our pupil and his family at this very sad time,” St Mary’s Grammar School said in a statement.
“Ensuring that all pupils got home safely was our absolute focus following this tragic incident.”
A man in his 40s wearing a high-visibility vest, which had the word “Security” on the back, is being sought by detectives.
Paramilitary style shootings remain a common occurrence in Northern Ireland – 20 years after the Good Friday agreement put an end to much of the violence in the country.
Police have not ruled out the possibility of dissident republican involvement.
Chief Superintendent Jonathan Roberts said: “This man is believed to be in his 40s and was sitting in his car when he was approached by a lone gunman who shot him several times, including at least once in the head.
“This is an absolutely disgraceful and reckless act for which there can be no justification whatsoever, the act was carried out in the immediate vicinity of three schools where there were large numbers of pupils at the time and it is entirely possible that we could have had a seriously injured or dead child or children as a result of this terrible act.”
Belfast Councillor Tim Attwood, of the SDLP, said it was “absolutely sickening” that the gun was fired in an area close to a primary and secondary school.
He added: “A number of pupils witnessed this fatality and are understandably very disturbed and frightened after this reckless act occurred nearby the school gates.
“There is absolutely no place for this in 2018; this madness belongs in the past and we cannot allow it to once again become our normality.”
Some children were so frightened that they were unable to make their way up the road and had to received assistance from youth workers.
The school announced that it would be closed following the incident and said it would be offering counselling services to pupils.
A tall metal curtain has now been erected at the scene.