Forbury Gardens attack: Families of deceased men pay emotional tributes one year later
Tributes were paid to three men who died in a terrorist attack in Reading a year ago today, as Forbury Gardens fell silent as people paid their respects.
A memorial service held to mark the anniversary of Khairi Saadallah’s horrific attack in the popular park on Saturday June 20, 2020, heard incredibly moving tributes to the three deceased men – James Furlong, Joe Ritchie-Bennett and David Wails.
The service was headed by the Mayor of Reading Cllr David Stevens. and featured tributes, music from the students of Holt School in Wokingham, where Mr. Furlong was a teacher, as well as prayers and readings.
Read more: ‘Impressive’ James Furlong remembered with mosaic at Wokingham School
After the ceremony, those present placed yellow roses on the park’s bandstand to remember their friends and family.
Following the opening of the ceremony by Cllr Stevens, the first tribute was paid by Ken Murphy, in memory of David Wails.
He said: “They say time is a great healer, but I don’t think we can ever recover from the loss of David, James and Joe in such a terrible way in these gardens.
“However, we pray that they will now be at peace and able to look down on us, and are happy for the love shown and the tributes paid to them by everyone here today. May God keep them safe in His care until we meet again. “
Martin Cooper, CEO of Reading Pride, read a tribute from the family of American Joe-Ritchie Bennett, who were unable to attend.
He said: “We did not know of the events of Saturday June 20 until 7 am on June 21, 2020 which happened to be Father’s Day. Since Joe hadn’t planned to come home for Father’s Day, we sent a card and scheduled a family phone call for that day.
“Joe had a quirky sense of humor and was known to his family and friends for finding the funniest cards, which inevitably made you laugh. It was during the pre-planned call that we were to open Joe’s card and laugh together.
“We didn’t know this call would never happen. Instead, after learning of Joe’s murder, we opened the map.
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As usual, Joe sent a hilarious and funny card. However, he wrote a cute message inside the card to daddy. The last line of that message was, ‘I’ll think of you from afar.’
“Joe didn’t know when he wrote how far he would be. It started our one year nightmare that we have been through and are now realizing, will continue forever.
“The following days were unclear. Joe was in England and due to the Covid-19 pandemic we were told we could not fly there as we were locked out and would have been quarantined for 14 days. It added sorrow to sorrow. All we wanted to do was get on a plane and be with Joe. It didn’t seem real.
“We were all waiting for the phone to ring and Joe to tell us that this was a huge misunderstanding. Days turned into weeks and the realization recorded that Joe was gone forever.
“We made a family decision to bring Joe home and bury him here. We visit him every day at the cemetery and the whole family has bought plots next to him so that he is not alone and that we can all be together again someday. “
The final tribute was paid by James Furlong’s brother Gary.
He said: “The impact that James has had in his life makes it seem like so many people have lost so much in the past year. James was a gentle, kind and caring soul. His morals were impeccable and he did. never influenced by personal motives, he was truly a selfless man.
“In his life, James stood up for those who needed support the most and understood them the most. Thanks to his work in local LGBT communities and for those who needed help, James was always there.
Holt School has designed a mosaic in his memory which will soon be unveiled,
Mr Furlong added: ‘He would also be humbled by the way the Reading community has come together both in the aftermath of his death and to this day. Reading was his home, where he made his life and where he was happy.
“I encourage all of you in the coming days, weeks, months to continue to share your stories, your memories and in this way, we keep James’ gift alive.”
The ceremony included music from the Reading Philhamonic Orchestra, who performed “Adoration” by Florence Price, as well as “A Clare Benediction by John Rutter, sung by Niha Roy Choudhary of the Holt School, and” Oceans “sung by Kripa David, also a pupil of the Holt school.
Reading Minister’s Reverend Sonya Wratten gave a reading before Forbury Gardens fell silent for a minute as people paid their respects to the three men. A flower laying ceremony then followed.
It had been a gray day in Reading so far, but the sun came out as hundreds of yellow roses were placed on the bandstand.
Families and friends hugged each other as they laid their flowers in memory of their friends and family.
The ceremony was attended by Matt Rodda, MP for Reading East, who described it as “deeply moving”.
He said: “It has been a deeply moving event and sincere tributes have been paid to the three deceased men. It is clearly still very moving for the families involved and you can see how moved they were.
“My thoughts are with them during these difficult times.”
Reading Borough Council continues to work with families to create a suitable permanent memorial to remember the men in the gardens.