Three “kindest, most genuine” friends have been named as the victims of a suspected terrorist attack in a park in Reading, southern England.
Joe Ritchie-Bennett, originally from the US, along with locals James Furlong and David Wails were killed in the knife attack on Saturday night (British time).
Mourners held memorials for the three men overnight on Monday (Australian time) as the impacts of the shocking stabbings spread across communities in Britain and the US.
Meanwhile, counter-terrorism officers have promised the investigation into the suspect Khairi Saadallah are “continuing at pace” as more details emerged of his history of offences and poor mental health.
More than 50 people have come forward with information about the attack, parts of which were caught on mobile phone camera.
“A number of items have been recovered from the scene and are currently being investigated by specialist teams,” Britain’s counter-terrorism unit said on Tuesday morning.
His parents Gary and Janet, have released the following statement:
“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."
— Thames Valley Police (@ThamesVP) June 21, 2020
Outside the gates of the Holt School, where Mr Furlong was remembered as an “always smiling” history teacher, staff and students stood by side for two minutes of silence.
“He was just a really kind teacher,” Ella Banbury, 17, said.
A heart-shaped floral tribute to the three men could be seen outside The Blagrave Arms pub in Reading on Monday, alongside candles and a note from staff.
“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,” it read.
“Our hearts go out to their family and friends, and the other victims of this horrific incident.”
A message among the flowers paid tribute to the three.
“Our friends were the kindest, most genuine, and most loveliest people in our community that we had the pleasure in knowing,” it said.
Mr Ritchie-Bennett and Mr Furlong had been strong supporters of the LGBT+ community, the chief executive of charity Reading Pride said.
“They will be sorely missed by myself personally and many in the community,” Martin Cooper said.
Suspect acted alone, police say
Mr Saadallah is a refugee of the civil war in Libya who briefly came to the attention of MI5 in 2019 when the spy agency received a tip he wanted to travel overseas for terror-related activities.
On Monday, it emerged that the 25-year-old had been released from prison a fortnight before the attack.
British media reports the suspect was jailed in October for a series of non-terror offences. His sentence was reduced to 17 months and 20 days imprisonment in the Court of Appeal.
One of the appeal judges who gave the judgment in March noted Mr Saadallah’s various mental health issues in reducing the sentence.
The Sun reported that the suspect had been freed from the Bullingdon prison in Oxfordshire, 17 days ago after serving less than half of his sentence.
“What you appear to have here is a lone actor and they are obviously particularly hard to detect,” said Jonathan Hall, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, whose job is to inform public debate on security laws.
“If, as has been reported, the individual is suffering from poor mental health that is a particularly difficult area.”
Police have said they are not looking for anyone else in connection with the attack.
“We have a large team of officers and staff working to establish exactly what happened in the lead up to, during and after this incident,” CTPSE head Detective Chief Superintendent Kath Barnes said.
“Our thoughts very much remain with the family and friends of those who have lost loved ones and those who have been injured and affected as a result of this tragic incident.
“I would ask both the media and the public again not to speculate on any aspect of this case at this time as this could have an impact on the ongoing investigation and any future court appearances.”
Britain’s Home Secretary Priti Patel told parliament it was clear the threat posed by lone actors was growing.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “appalled and sickened” by the incident and said “we will not hesitate to take action” if there are lessons to be learned from the circumstances.