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Reading attack: Tributes paid to 'true gentlemen' as UK mourns stabbing victims

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A Police officer places flowers from a woman at the scene of a fatal multiple stabbing attack in Forbury Gardens, central Reading, England, Monday June 22, 2020.
A Police officer places flowers from a woman at the scene of a fatal multiple stabbing attack in Forbury Gardens, central Reading, England, Monday June 22, 2020.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth
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People in the English county of Berkshire held a moment's silence on Monday as they mourned for three people stabbed to death in Reading at the weekend, in what police have branded a terrorist attack.

More than 100 students lit candles and laid flowers in memory of history teacher 36-year-old James Furlong, named as one of the victims, at the school in nearby Wokingham where he worked.

A second victim was identified as Joe Ritchie-Bennett, 39, originally from the United States. The third person killed was later identified as David Wails, said to have been a senior scientist at a global chemicals company.

Home Secretary (interior minister) Priti Patel visited the scene of the attacks on Monday and said work was being done to ensure "justice is served".

A 25-year-old man believed to be the lone attacker is in police custody. The motive is unclear.

Tributes to the victims: 'True gentlemen'

At the Holt School where Furlong taught, a flag in the courtyard has been lowered to half-mast.

"James was a very kind and gentle man. He had a real sense of duty and cared for each and every one of our students," said deputy headteacher Anne Kennedy.

"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, (they) become active citizens and have a voice."

The other victim to be identified was named by his family in the US. The Philadelphia Inquirer quoted the father of Joe Ritchie-Bennett as saying his son had moved to England around 15 years ago.

Robert Ritchie said his son worked for a law firm in London before taking a job about 10 years ago at a Dutch pharmaceutical company that had its British headquarters in Reading.

"I love him. I always have. I always will... He was a great guy," the victim's brother Robert, a police captain, told the paper. "Our family is heartbroken and beside ourselves."

The CEO of the LGBT+ charity Reading Pride (UK), Martin Cooper, later issued a statement on Twitter saying the three men who died were "personal friends" of his, describing them as "true gentlemen". He said they were regulars at the Blagrave Arms pub and were a "support network for individuals".

Counter-terrorist investigation

A 25-year-old man arrested after the attack has not been officially identified but UK media outlets have named him as a Libyan asylum-seeker living in Reading. He is being questioned under anti-terrorist legislation.

Britain’s official terrorism threat level remains at “substantial” after the attack.

"We have to look at all aspects as to what's happened on Saturday, the individual that's in custody as well to ensure that, yes, justice is served," said Home Secretary Priti Patel. "But also, we make sure that we learned the lessons from what has happened over the weekend to prevent anything like this from happening again."

AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth
A message is shown on flowers near the scene of a fatal multiple stabbing attack in Forbury Gardens, central Reading, England, Monday June 22, 2020.AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth

Counter-Terrorism police who have taken over the investigation issued a fresh appeal for information on Monday evening. A warrant has been granted to continue detaining the suspect until June 27.

Police said three people injured in the attack had now been discharged from hospital.

Police and other emergency services attended the scene in Reading's Forbury Gardens at around 19:00 BST on Saturday evening and quickly apprehended the suspect.

Detective Chief Superintendent Ian Hunter, Head of Crime, said police were not "looking for any other people in connection" with the incident, adding there was no further danger to the public.

Authorities added that video footage of the incident had been captured on mobile phones, urging people not to circulate it on social media and to use it to help the police instead.

ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP
Police officers are seen at a police cordon in Reading, UK, on June 20, 2020, following the stabbing incident at Forbury GardensADRIAN DENNIS/AFP

'The best son'

James Furlong's family paid tribute to the history teacher in a statement released on Sunday.

"James was a wonderful man. He was beautiful, intelligent, honest and fun," his parents, Gary and Janet, said in a statement released by Thames Valley Police.

"He was the best son, brother, uncle and partner you could wish for. We are thankful for the memories he gave us all," they added.

'Appalled and sickened'

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that he was "appalled and sickened" by the attack and sent his condolences to the families and friends of the victims. He also thanked police officers "for their bravery in tackling the suspect".

"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 where necessary," he added.

In a statement release in the early hours of Sunday, Priti Patel described the incident as "a senseless attack", adding: "My heart, prayers and thoughts are with all of those affected and to the people of Reading who will be deeply shocked and concerned by this terrible incident."

"I am in contact with police and will ensure they have all the support they need," the Home Secretary continued.