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Reading terror attack victims were LGBT+ men and their friends

Reading terror attack victims were LGBT+ men and their friends

James Furlong and Joe Ritchie-Bennet

The first two victims of the terror attack in Reading, England on Saturday were members of the LGBT+ community.

Only two victims names have emerged so far – American Joe Ritchie-Bennett and his friend James Furlong.

Joe Ritchie-Bennett, 39, was from the US city of Philadelphia. But he had been living in the UK for 15 years, working for a Dutch pharmaceutical company in Reading, southern England.

He had lost his husband, Ian, aged 32, in December 2014 after a short battle with colon cancer. The pair had been married for eight years.

The other victim is James Furlong, 36. Originally from Liverpool, northwest England, he was a popular teacher at The Holt School in Wokingham – a town on the outskirts of Reading.

He was The Holt School’s Head of History and Government and Politics and colleagues described him as ‘inspirational’.

While we do not know how James identified, his social media profiles show him with a rainbow flag over his profile photo.

The two men were with other friends when the attack happened – raising the possibility other the victims may be from the LGBT+ and ally community.

How the terror attack in Reading unfolded

A lone attacker went on a rampage in Forbury Gardens, a park in the center of Reading, at around 6.45pm on Saturday (20 June).

A witness says he shouted ‘some unintelligible words’ before stabbing three men in the neck and under the arms.

He then attacked another group, stabbing one of them in the back of the neck, before attacking two others.

Thames Valley Police later confirmed that three people have died and another three are seriously injured.

Shortly after, the police rugby tackled a man to the ground and arrested him on suspicion of murder.

The 25-year-old is now under arrest under the Terrorism Act. Sources have named him as Khairi Saadallah from Libya. However police have not confirmed his identity.

The area had been the site of a Black Lives Matter protest earlier in the day. However, police said the attack was not related to the protest.

James: ‘Cared for each and every one of our students’

James Furlong
Furlong gave his support to the victims of another terrorist attack, which saw 49 people killed in an LGBT+ nightclub in Orlando, USA. James Furlong

Meanwhile, The Holt School has paid tribute to James Furlong, speaking of their ‘shock and sadness’.

Anne Kennedy and Katie Pearce, co-headteachers, said in a letter to parents:

‘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.

‘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.  

‘He was a cherished colleague and he will be sadly missed.’

Moreover, Furlong’s parents, Gary and Janet, described him as ‘beautiful, intelligent, honest and fun’.

Joe: ‘Everything that was good about our team’

Joe Ritchie-Bennett
Ritchie-Bennett, was an American ex-pat, who lost his husband to colon cancer eight years ago. Joe Ritchie-Bennett

Meanwhile American Joe Ritchie-Bennett apparently moved to England from Philadelphia around 15 years ago.

His brother is 7th District Police Captain Robert Ritchie, a 24-year veteran of the Philadelphia force.

Captain Ritchie said: ‘I love him. I always have. I always will. He was a great guy. He was four years younger than me. I had a paper route at 12 and he helped me every day. I used to buy him something every two weeks to thank him.

‘We used to play together every day. We rode bikes together every day. Our family is heartbroken and beside ourselves.’

Moreover, one of his school friends, Sean Clothier, shared a precious memory from their youth.

The pair were on the swim team together. And Clothier recalled a team training trip in Florida.

He was in the hotel lobby around 9pm when the elevator doors opened to reveal freshman Joe in a thong-style bathing suit, a boa, and sunglasses.

‘He strutted his way through the lobby towards the hot tub as if none of us were there and he was king of the world.

‘It was hilarious and he endeared himself to all of us even more. Joe was everything that was good about our team.’