READING came together on Saturday night for a moving moment of reflection to remember the victims of the Forbury Gardens attacks.
Around 200 people gathered in Forbury Square, coming together on a drab, wet evening to honour the lives of James Furlong, David Wails and Joseph Ritchie-Bennett.
The trio were stabbed as they sat in the park on Saturday, June 20. Three other people were injured and Khairi Saadallah, 25, of Basingstoke Road has been charged with the murder of the three victims as well as the attempted murders of the injured men.
The vigil was organised by Bernadette Martin and attended by a wide cross-section of the community, including Reading Pride supporters and Reading East MP Matt Rodda.
It was live-streamed for those who couldn’t be there in person.
Ms Martin gave a short speech to thank people for coming and explaining why she wanted to hold the vigil.
“What happened in the park two weeks ago has shifted everyone’s view of Reading,” she said.
“Things like that didn’t happen in Reading or even to people we knew, worked with or loved – it was something that happened in big cities.
“I want to pass on my sincere condolences to the families of James, Joe and David. I cannot imagine how they are feeling.”
For those grieving, Ms Martin raised awareness of the support available on the night, including Reading Street Pastors, Victims First and SupportU, and thanked them for their help in organising the vigil.
She also reassured people that the floral tributes left outside the former Post Office in Reading’s Market Place had been moved to the Abbey Gateway. They will move again into Forbury Gardens when it reopens and all the messages and tributes will be stored at the Berkshire Records Office.
The event ended with a minute’s silence for James, Joe and David.
Afterwards, Ms Martin told Wokingham.Today that the idea for the event came after hearing BBC Radio Berkshire present Sarah Walker’s personal tribute to Joe, someone that she knew as well.
“It moved me really significantly,” she said. “I was sitting in my car in Tesco’s car park and I became quite tearful. I regained myself, did my shopping and went home.
“Initially, I just messaged some friends and said this is what I was thinking of doing, I put a post on my Facebook page, it was shared with Joes partner Ian, and off the back of that people started sharing it.”
This then grew into an event page: “It just grew legs and just went crazy within the space of 48 hours,” she said – more than 1,000 people expressed interest in attending, but the rain did dampen some of those numbers.
She said that she had had “an immense amount of support” from a range of organisations.
“It’s still a good number of people considering the weather being rubbish,” she said.
Ms Martin also praised the response of Reading’s Street Pastors, who had been walking the town centre helping those who have been affected by the events two weeks ago.
But above all, the event was about James, David and Joe, and helping the community grieve them.
“We never expected this to happen in Reading, we never expected this to happen to somebody we know: its always somebody else. Reading has need to this just to have an outpouring, to allow people to realise they werent the only ones grieving.
“It was not about the LGBTQ+ community, it was about everybody in R|eading, because everybody has been touched by this.
“I want people to be able to talk about it freely,” she added. “And I thought that maybe this might be one way of just being able to get people to open up.”
Matt Rodda, whose Reading East constituency includes parts of Woodley and Earley, said: “I’ve come this evening to pay my respects to the three people who died and show that, like many other people, I’m thinking about their families and people who knew them.
“I feel that we should come and pay respects to them and to try to continue to show solidarity in the face of this awful tragedy.
“It was incredibly moving and I’m a little bit overwhelmed to be honest with you. The weather almost added to the sense of calm reflection. People are overwhelmed by what they’ve experienced in the last few days and are trying to come to terms with it.”