'Their loss is a tragedy': Reading terror attack victims were all friends

·5-min read
From left: David Wails, Joe-Ritchie Bennett and James Furlong
From left: David Wails, Joe-Ritchie Bennett and James Furlong

The third victim of the Reading terror attack has been named as David Wails, a senior scientist at a global chemicals company.

Wails and the other two victims – named as Joe Ritchie-Bennett, 39, and history teacher James Furlong, 36 - were thought to have been friends and frequented the same pub.

Wails, a senior principal scientist at Johnson Matthey, a British FTSE 100-listed company, Ritchie-Bennett and Furlong were stabbed to death in Forbury Gardens in the centre of Reading, Berkshire, on Saturday evening.

Suspect Khairi Saadallah, 25, was said to have started stabbing groups at random as they sat in the park.

A heart-shaped floral tribute to the three men could be seen outside nearby pub The Blagrave Arms on Monday afternoon, alongside candles and a note that read: “The Blagrave Arms management and staff are devastated at the announcement that the three people who died in the Forbury Gardens attack on Saturday were regular customers and very dear friends of ours.

“Our hearts go out to their family and friends, and the other victims of this horrific incident.”

Alongside the names “Dave, James and Joe”, the text said: “We will never forget you. RIP.”

A message among the flowers paid tribute to the three men: “Our friends were the kindest, most genuine, and most loveliest people in our community that we had the pleasure in knowing. They’ll be forever in our thoughts.”

David Wails

Mr Wails is believed to have been a senior scientist.
Wails is believed to have been a senior scientist at a global chemicals company. (LinkedIn)

Wails was a senior scientist at a global chemicals company and a strong supporter of the LGBT community.

He was a graduate of the University of York and a former post-doctoral researcher at Queen’s University Belfast, according to his online profiles.

Read more: Terror suspect ‘came to attention of MI5 last year’

A friend of the victims told the BBC he knew Wails as a regular at The Blagrave Arms.

Michael Main said: “I drank with David probably every day. Every time I was in there, he was in there. We’d have a lot of banter. He was a banter person.

“He’s the one that hits me the most because I know him more and it’s just sad to know he’s gone so early.”

Joe Ritchie-Bennett

Joe Ritchie-Bennett, 39, was originally from Philadelphia in Pennsylvania. (Facebook)
Ritchie-Bennett, 39, was originally from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Facebook)

Earlier on Monday, Joe Ritchie-Bennett, 39, an American who had been living in the UK for 15 years, was the second victim to be named.

Ritchie-Bennett, originally from Philadelphia, worked for a Dutch pharmaceutical company in Reading.

His father, Robert Ritchie, told CBS News: “The family is heartbroken they have lost their brilliant and loving son. This was senseless.

“I absolutely love my son with all of my heart and all of my soul.”

In a separate interview to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Ritchie-Bennett’s older brother, also called Robert, described him as a “great guy”.

He said: “I love him. I always have. I always will. Our family is heartbroken and beside ourselves.

“We used to play together every day. We rode bikes together every day. Our family is heartbroken and beside ourselves. He did not deserve to go out like this.”

James Furlong

History teacher James Furlong, 36. (Facebook)
History teacher Furlong, 36. (Facebook)

Teacher James Furlong was the first victim to be named after the attack.

Furlong, 36, was head of history, government and politics at The Holt School in Wokingham, Berkshire.

A minute’s silence in his memory was held at the school on Monday morning.

His parents Gary and Janet released a statement through Thames Valley Police that said: “James was a wonderful man. He was beautiful, intelligent, honest and fun.

“He was the best son, brother, uncle and partner you could wish for. We are thankful for the memories he gave us all. We will never forget him and he will live in our hearts forever.”

The Holt School’s co-headteachers Anne Kennedy and Katie Pearce also paid tribute to Furlong, and described him as a “kind and gentle man” who had a “real sense of duty and cared for each and every one of our students”.

An aerial view showing police tents in Forbury Gardens at the scene of a multiple stabbing attack which took place on Saturday, in Reading, England, Sunday June 21, 2020. Police say a stabbing rampage in Britain that killed three people as they sat in a park on a summer evening is being considered a terrorist attack. A 25-year-old man believed to be the lone attacker is in custody. (Jonathan Brady/PA via AP)
An aerial view showing police tents at the scene on Sunday. (AP)
READING, ENGLAND - JUNE 22: Home Secretary, Priti Patel makes a statement to the media at Forbury Gardens on June 22, 2020 in Reading, England. Khairi Saadallah, a 25-year-old refugee from Libya, was arrested on Saturday evening suspected of stabbing three people to death in Forbury Gardens in the centre of Reading. Another three people are in a serious condition in hospital. One victim has been named as 36-year-old teacher, James Furlong. Police are treating the incident as terror-related. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
Home secretary Priti Patel makes a statement at Forbury Gardens on Monday. (Getty)

In a statement, they said: “He truly inspired everyone he taught through his passion for his subject and his dedication. He was determined that our students would develop a critical awareness of global issues and in doing so become active citizens and have a voice.

“As a Holt community, we all now need to absorb this sad news. Counsellors will be available for students and staff.

“Words cannot describe our shock and sadness at this time. Our thoughts are with his mum, dad, brother and family, and his friends and colleagues.

“He was a cherished colleague and he will be sadly missed.”

A floral tribute and message left at the Abbey gateway of Forbury Gardens following a multiple stabbing attack in the gardens, in Reading, England, Sunday June 21, 2020. British police are seeking the motive of a 25-year-old man suspected of stabbing three people to death in a daylight attack in a park. Detectives say they are not currently treating Saturday’s attack in the town of Reading as terrorism, though the counterterrorism unit is supporting the investigation. Several other people were injured, three of them seriously, in an attack that came out of the blue on a sunny summer evening. (Jonathan Brady/PA via AP)
A floral tribute and message left at the Abbey gateway of Forbury Gardens. (AP)

Boris Johnson said he was "appalled and sickened" by the attack.

He said: Our thoughts are very much with the families and friends of the victims today.

“If there are lessons that we need to learn about how we handle such cases, how we handle the events leading up to such cases then we will learn those lessons and we will not hesitate to take action when necessary.”

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Police continue to question Saadallah, who was arrested shortly after the incident under the Terrorism Act.

It is understood that MI5 had received intelligence that Saadallah planned to travel abroad, possibly for terrorism purposes, but the threat was found to be insubstantial and the information provided did not meet the threshold of investigation.

Former head of UK counter terrorism Sir Mark Rowley told Radio 4’s Today programme that police and security services face a “wicked problem” deciding which of the 40,000 people known to them could launch a terror attack.