The police are holding a Maltese man in his 30s in connection with the murder of Ronald Galea, who was shot outside his meat factory in Ħal Far on Monday.

The high percentage of crimes involving firearms is worrying

The man, who the police said was “assisting investigations”, works in a field similar to that of the victim, Assistant Police Commissioner Pierre Calleja said during a press conference yesterday.

He did not reply when asked whether the man was cooperating with the investigation but said that tests to determine whether he had gunshot residue on him were being carried out.

Mr Galea, 65, from Birkirkara, was shot outside Continental Meat Company – the Ħal Far meat factory he owned – as he was closing shop on Monday at about 4.45pm.

Superintendent Silvio Valletta said the autopsy showed Mr Galea died from gunshot wounds, including to the heart and lungs, after being shot at close range. Although eight shots were fired, not all hit the victim.

Mr Calleja said that an eyewitness saw the killing from close by and described the shooter as a man in his early 30s of medium stature wearing some form of hat, although it was not clear whether his face was covered. He drove off in a silver Toyota Vitz.

The police were yesterday still in the process of identifying any CCTV cameras in the area. The car and the weapon – believed to be a semi automatic pistol or sub machine gun – have not been found.

Investigators were still trying to establish the motive and could not rule out that more than one person may have been involved.

Mr Calleja urged anyone with information about the case to call the police.

This was the first murder of 2013. Last year there were 11, almost double the average annual amount.

Police historian Eddie Attard said that, while the murder rate in Malta was not high, a high percentage of crimes involved firearms and this was worrying, indicating that illegal guns were available.

Wife’s birthday yesterday

Ronald Galea’s wife, Maria, was meant to celebrate her birthday yesterday but instead she grieved for her husband.

One of Mr Galea’s two sons, Pierre, wrote on his Facebook page: “Ma. I don’t know how to tell you happy birthday on such a horrible day in our lives… Remember that papa is surely in heaven praying for you and us and he will keep taking care of us as he always did – every day of his life.”

Family friend Vince Borg had known Mr Galea since they were teenagers and they went through life’s milestones together. Their wives were also friends.

Mr Galea, who was known as “Ronnie ta’ Maria”, was an example of friendship and a man who worked very hard and put his family first, Mr Borg said, adding that he was also very jolly and liked making people laugh.

“It was a shock. Not just because he died. But the way he died. I would never have imagined that such a nice man would have left us in such a tragic manner.”

Apart from the grief of losing their loved one, Mr Galea’s wife and two sons had to face the cruel way it happened, he said.

As messages of condolences poured in, Pierre wrote: “A big thank you to all of you for showing me and my family support in this terrible moment... Please keep us in your prayers to find strength and face the coming days without dad – the greatest man I’ve ever known!”