Touched by tragedy: Survivors and kin recall London bombings
LONDON (AP) — To lose your sister. Your son. Your legs.
Ten years after the suicide bombings that killed 52 people on the London transport network, survivors and the loved ones of those who died are still angry, grief stricken and scarred.
But they share a resolve to move forward, to deny the extremists victory by getting on with their lives.
Here are a few of their recollections about the day the capital’s morning commute was rocked by bombings that crippled three Underground trains and ripped the top off a double-decker bus.
MY SECOND LIFE
On July 7, 2005, Gill Hicks boarded the Underground at King’s Cross and observed etiquette unique to the Tube. Commuters stand millimeters from other passengers without really looking at them. She didn’t notice the bomber. But she knows now she was standing inches from him when he detonated his backpack on the Piccadilly Line.
“I think there’s a very clear demarcation line,” said Hicks, who lost both legs below the knee. “So for me July 7, 2005, was the end of life number one, and everything I knew in life number one, and the beginning of a very fortunate position to have the gift of a second life.”
Life number two began when Hicks awoke in the hospital. Chillingly, her arm bracelet labeled her “One Unknown.” She said it made her see the brilliance of humanity, as she had been rescued in dangerous conditions from wreckage miles underground.
“What those words said to me on my arm bracelet was that people risked their lives to come and save one unknown — to come and save as many one unknowns as they could.” she said. “And to me that is humanity, because they weren’t selective. It didn’t matter whether I had wealth or no wealth. Whether I had a faith or no faith. What the color of my skin was. Indeed what my gender was. Nothing mattered other than I was a precious human life.”
Hicks, 47, went from being a workaholic designer to a motivational speaker who also runs the charity M.A.D. (Making a Difference) for Peace. The organization tries to connect people globally and encourage them to think of peace as a verb — an act of individual responsibility accomplished daily.
Hicks said people have a responsibility to unite against global extremism and destructive ideologies. But that doesn’t mean she isn’t angry. She’s furious in fact. She wonders how the taking of her legs and the loss of innocent lives has furthered anyone’s cause.
She tries to use the anger as fuel for her projects — jet propellant to keep her motivated and moving forward. She believes she has no choice but to celebrate the fact that she is here — every day.
“As I stand here before you now, I can’t feel the ground,” she said of the sensation of hovering on artificial limbs. “I’ve had to learn how to accept that I can’t feel the ground, but I am still upright. And that’s a real ongoing skill, a new skill that I’ve had to learn over the last 10 years.”
I WILL NOT ALLOW THEM TO DEFEAT ME
Esther Hyman was at work as a medical secretary in Oxford when she heard “something was going on” in London.
Her sister Miriam, 32, who had worked as a picture researcher in publishing, was on her way to a meeting in the capital. She had been evacuated from the underground after one of the explosions. Her father managed to speak with her briefly. She told him she would stop and take breather before deciding whether to go to the meeting.
When they hadn’t heard from her by that evening, the family became agitated. Soon they were putting up missing posters and visiting hospitals. Four days elapsed before they learned the truth — that she had jumped on a bus targeted in the attacks.
In the years that followed, Esther, now 46, considered her options. She had to make a decision.
“Am I going to allow this to beat me? Am I going to lose my life as well? Am I going to allow them to terrorize me, as they wish to do, into submission?” Esther said. “Or am I going to survive, with my sanity intact and do everything within my arms reach to address what happened?”
Caving in wasn’t really an option.
“Mim would not approve,” she said.
The family established a trust and equipped the Miriam Hyman Children’s Eye Care Center in Odisha, India. It seemed fitting to the family, because Miriam got glasses as a teenager and was shocked at what she had been missing. She was very visual, and was fascinated to better see things in nature, such as the intricacy of leaves.
Together with the University College London Institute of Education, the trust has also developed an educational program that uses Miriam’s story and her family’s reaction to her death to prevent young people from being drawn into extremism of any kind.
Launched this week, the trust hopes educators around the world will use the program, giving young people an alternative narrative to extremism.
Really, it’s all about choices. And making the right ones.
“They took away Miriam’s life,” Esther said. “But they cannot take away the time we had with her and what we choose to do in response to losing her in that way.”
IT IS NEVER OVER
Stavros Marangos remembers the silence. One of the first London Fire Brigade members to respond to the bus attack in Tavistock Square, he was struck by how the usual traffic, bustle and chatter had disappeared — replaced only by sirens wailing in the distance.
“There was just an eerie quiet,” he said.
His superiors warned that there might be secondary explosive devices, and said that anyone who didn’t want to get off the fire engine was free to stay. No one did.
“It was like a scene from a war film,” he said. “There were unidentifiable body parts strewn all over the place.”
One person was still alive on the bus, but there were no more stretchers. Crews used the top of a desk to move the survivor into the courtyard of the nearby British Medical Association, where doctors had gathered to help the injured.
Ten years on, he can’t get it out of his head.
“Day to day, when you are busy, when you are engaged doing things, it’s way in the background. But every now and again, it just creeps up,” he said. “I’d like to give you a quotation I heard from a film about the Detroit Fire Department. There was a 32-year veteran who was retiring and he coined the phrase ‘I wish my head could forget what my eyes have seen.’”
A PORTION OF YOUR SOUL RIPPED OUT
Grahame Russell didn’t give much thought to the first news of trouble on the Underground because early reports suggested it was only a power outage. Around lunchtime though, he got a call from his son Philip’s office. They had received a text message from Philip, who worked in finance, at about 9:30 a.m., saying he was going to get on a bus. They hadn’t heard from him since.
“We were just obviously worried sick.” he said.
A police family liaison officer was soon on the doorstep. Philip was classified as “missing” for days. His family identified his body on what would have been his 29th birthday.
Ten years on, Grahame, now 72, says he has stopped trying to make sense of it.
“It’s very difficult,” he said. “When you have a portion of your soul ripped out from you, you find life very difficult. I find difficulty in reflecting and thinking back. If I did that all the time, I would just collapse.”
Instead, Grahame has thrown himself into a project to create a more personalized memorial in Tavistock Square, not just for the victims but also for the survivors and emergency services personnel, many of whom risked their lives in uncertain situations to reach the injured.
“They are not recognized anywhere and I believe we should have some sort of inscription to basically thank them,” he said, hoping to create a space for reflection for everyone touched by the tragedy.
“But also to remember them. If we forget what happens, we’ll do it all over again.”