My beloved son, father and brother were murdered – and my youngest boy had to tell me
By Zuleihat Owuiye, Mamos Nigeria
When tourism lecturer Suzanne Richards returned home from a class in 2015, it was toward the end of June. She had waved her teenage sons, Owen and Joel, off to Tunisia with her brother Adrian and father, Pat, the night before, causing the house to be quiet. I couldn’t go because it was a “jolly boys’ outing” to celebrate Owen’s GCSE graduation.
Adrian sent her a text in the morning stating that they were all sunbathing by the pool. Since the men had already been to the four-star hotel twice before, they were eager to unwind there while drinking a few beers and discussing football.
Richards, 54, says that she became a single parent after having her two sons. Both my dad and my brother, who did not have children, stepped up and became role models for their nephews. They became inseparable and spent every weekend together, sharing a love of card games, Only Fools and Horses, and Walsall FC, their neighborhood team.
In 2014, Pat, Joel, and Adrian went on a family vacation.
Pat, Joel, and Adrian on a 2014 family vacation, from left to right. Photograph: Provided picture
“I was going to make some lunch,” reviews Richards through a video call from her home in the West Midlands. ” An obscure number glimmered up on my telephone. I would normally not respond, but for some reason I did. Owen’s screams were heard at that point: There’s a shooter and they’re all dead!’ I initially couldn’t tell which son was speaking because he was so upset. Then, at that point, we were cut off.”
She attempted to call the number back immediately, but she was unsuccessful. Friends and family started sending messages to each other, hoping everyone was safe and asking if she had seen the news. It appeared as though everything happened simultaneously. Owen’s call, the texts from companions, the news report blazing on my screen.
“I tumbled to the floor in sheer shock. I didn’t have the foggiest idea what to do. I was unable to grasp what had quite recently been shared with me. I couldn’t stand it. Didn’t have the foggiest idea what he implied. wished it weren’t true. every single emotion. a day I will never want to forget.
Seifeddine Rezgui, 23, opened fire on sunbathers with a concealed Kalashnikov at 11.45 a.m. that day on the beachfront at Sousse, 85 miles south of Tunis, before entering the Hotel Imperial Marhaba through the pool area and firing at people there. There were 38 people killed, including three members of the Richards family.
Richards eventually tried to call her mother, but she couldn’t get through. I jumped in the car because she lives only five minutes away; I have no idea how I drove. Then I needed to let it be known that she had lost her significant other, child and grandson. However, even as I uttered those words, I maintained my hope that either the news or we had misunderstood something. It’s possible that an ambulance arrived on time.
Suzanne, Joel and Owen observing Christmas in 2013.
Owen, Suzanne, and Joel, seated from left, enjoying Christmas in 2013. Photograph: Image provided Richards’ expertise in tourism proved invaluable right after the attack. When she was 16 years old, she started her career as a travel agent. Later, she switched to lecturing to work during school breaks. My greatest concern was for Owen. When he was 16 years old, he had just witnessed an unimaginable horror. He was harmed and out there in isolation. I realized I needed to get to him.”
She quickly discovered through her connections that Tui, the tour operator of the hotel, was sending four rescue planes to Tunisia to evacuate British tourists. My best friend and I went to the East Midlands airport and boarded an empty plane after they agreed to let me fly there. She had two responsibilities when she arrived in the wee hours of the morning: locate Owen, comfort him, and the other three.
Rejoined with Owen in clinic, after an embrace she never needed to end, she gave him the garments she had carried with her. ” By then he was still in his swimsuit. At the point when he understood the others were dead, he escaped the lodging with just what he had on.”
She then attempted to find Joel, Adrian and Pat’s bodies. ” At the Tunis morgue, things were chaotic. No one knew how to speak English. It still haunts me in dreams. Because she was not permitted to fly out with her family liaison officer, she did not have anyone to assist her in managing the situation.
She says, “I think if they had been there, maybe I wouldn’t have had to see what I saw.” Following a few hours, my dearest companion and I had the option to distinguish them.” She stops. I traversed it by going on auto-pilot. I wouldn’t wish it on any individual.”
Joel Richards was 19 years of age at the hour of the assault.
Joel Richards was 19 when the attack happened. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian When she got home, she saw a huge outpouring of support and grief from the community. Walsall FC’s ground was an ocean of blossoms, football tops, scarves and messages. The boys’ schools, the Birmingham County Football Association, and Worcester University, where Joel, 19, had just finished his second year of a sports science degree, all received similar tributes. Every one of them three were so notable and cherished.”
Three weeks after the attacks, West Bromwich hosted a joint funeral. It’s every one of the somewhat of a haze,” Richards reviews. ” However, I am aware that over 1,000 people came to pay their respects, which was absolutely beautiful. It was an exceptionally open burial service – remember that we had likewise held a [national] moment’s quiet to grieve the individuals who were killed. However, the charity Victim Support and the West Midlands Police helped us cope with the constant stream of television cameras and photographers. This was a very well-known story because the same family had lost three generations.
It was that public interest that assisted Richards and Owen with pushing ahead after such a seismic misfortune. ” Individuals needed to follow through with something but they didn’t have the foggiest idea what, so they sent cash or they did pledge drives. As a result, we were receiving funds from all over. Thank heavens our mailman knows where we reside in light of the fact that some of it was simply addressed to the Richards Family, Walsall, or to Joel, Walsall FC.”
Richards decided that they needed to give the money to people who had lost loved ones to violence because they felt “uncomfortable” receiving the donations. Because the experience of losing a loved one to an illness is so distinct from that of losing a loved one to a murder, I registered Smile for Joel as a charity with Victim Support. It is conscious, unexpected and horrendous. And it’s really hard. As a result, Owen and I wanted to give money to other families so that they could use it for a treat or something that would make their lives easier. It very well may be anything – an occasion or a nursery redo, new cots or a PC.”
In May 2022, Suzanne and Owen are seen participating in the ZipForJoel charity challenge in Snowdon.
Suzanne and Owen participating in a zipwire good cause challenge, ZipForJoel, in Snowdon in May 2022. Photograph: Supplied image The charity’s name came from the funeral, when Joel’s friends gave out wristbands with his motto “together we achieve more” and the words “Smile Like Joel” (he was known for his cheeky grin). It really just took off from there. The name was slightly altered, and I created the logo.
The charity was launched with a fun run in the neighborhood park in September that raised £27,000 and a Facebook group. Then things compounded. Allies were urged to bring issues to light by taking selfies wearing the wristbands at vacationer locales all over the planet – a sign of approval for Joel’s adoration for movement. A progression of additional pledge drives were coordinated, highlighting things from Joel’s list of must-dos, including climbing the O2 vault and a parachute hop.
More than 1,000 family members have been helped by the charity, which has raised more than £500,000 so far. It likewise works with the Unfamiliar Office and the movement business to feature occasion wellbeing, particularly the issue of lodging security.
Richards received an MBE in June of this year for her charitable work. I had no idea what it was! I was thinking as this envelope with the title “On Her Majesty’s Service” passed through the door: Oh no, a ticket for speeding! It’s a significant privilege and I share it with Owen, since we set this up together.”
Following a press conference to announce her MBE, Suzanne Richards
Following a press conference to announce her MBE, Suzanne Richards Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA Despite receiving counseling, Richards claims that Owen and she both believe that one must learn how to cope with loss on their own. She credits the charity for keeping her going. It is my treatment. It permits me to discuss Joel, my sibling and my father each and every day; It is crucial to preserve their memory. It makes me feel like I know them. And helping other families who have been affected in the same way as us is a good way to give back. Being able to inform others is such a lovely thing; indeed you can have that occasion in Cornwall, and indeed, your little girl can return to the dance classes she needed to stop since you needed to quit working after what occurred.”
The numerous pictures of her family also help. We were exceptionally honored that we hung out a lot. Supper each Sunday, occasions to Mallorca and Lanzarote. We all went to Miami one year and were stuck there when an Icelandic volcano decided to erupt. The boys and I had a two-week delay in Florida to celebrate. Those were the times that I treasure now and look back on fondly. It’s difficult to feel that I’m never going to get any new photos – yet say thanks to God I have such countless recollections.”
She tries to enjoy every moment of life. It’s a platitude perhaps, yet I’ve understood that life is short and you just get a single opportunity at it.” She continues, “I do ask myself every day: for what reason did it work out? Other than wreaking havoc on 38 families, what has the shooter gained by doing that? I don’t get it and I never will get it. I have additionally understood that time doesn’t recuperate you. All that time does is empower you to better manage it. The hardest piece of distress isn’t losing them – it is figuring out how to live without them.”
Her parents would have celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary on the day we speak. However, she lost her mother in 2018. She truly battled. She was in her 70s and had lost her main child, her grandson and her significant other. It made her so sick that three years after the fact I needed to cover her in a similar grave.”
Owen, now 24 years old, has not put off going on a trip, and he is currently in Australia. I believe he should make it happen. However, as far as I might be concerned, it is very forlorn. Today we ought to celebrate as a family. I have one child on the opposite side of the world and the other three are up in paradise.”
Suzanne Richards in 2023
‘The hardest piece of pain isn’t losing them – it’s figuring out how to live without them … ‘ Suzanne Richards. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian Richards was raised Roman Catholic, but she says she prefers not to be questioned about her spiritual beliefs. I live for the way that I will see them in the future. It would be difficult for me to accept the fact that I will see them again if I knew that I would never see them again. I sincerely hope they are keeping an eye on us and everything we are doing.
We are saying our farewells when Richards poses me an inquiry. ” How we get by is the subject of this article. What are you going to say regarding me? How do you suppose I’ve made it this far?” I murmur something mixed up about the Grin for Joel good cause being at the core of the matter.
She cuts in. ” No, no, I should address you. I made due, and I traverse what occurred consistently for one explanation: It is due to Owen’s survival. There was a possibility of worse. I might have lost every one of them four. I was able to carry on because Owen managed to survive. How might I have adapted assuming I had lost every one of them? Perhaps we wouldn’t have this discussion.”
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