On 22 May 2017, a suicide bomber detonated himself outside the Manchester Arena as teenagers, parents and children left an Ariana Grande concert. In doing so, he killed 22 people and injured a further 129 of Grande’s fans. Here, Lucy Foster reflects on the barbaric attack – and reminds us what we should hold onto in its wake.
It was June 1994. Five of us – all 14-years-old – boarded the train at York febrile with excitement. The Cranberries were playing at the Manchester Gmex and after weeks of pleading, we were allowed to go on the understanding that we would be accompanied by one parent who would wait outside. The outfits had been planned for weeks; I wore a wine-red chiffon skirt from Topshop with my Doc Martens and my denim jacket. I had a tie-dye rucksack that held the £20 I had in cash and my Walkman, with a mix tape of The Cranberries’ back catalogue.
We got into the arena early and positioned ourselves right to the front, against the railings, as that’s what we thought people did. Here we were; five best friends, in the north’s biggest city, at night, and to all intents and purposes, alone. The feeling of liberation was intoxicating. It is seared into my memory. It was elation, it was freedom, it was a much-longed-for taste of adulthood.
But, on 22 May 2017, there were a swathe of young girls and teenagers whose memories of their first concert will be seared into their minds for the most brutal of reasons. Because instead of leaving with a poster and t-shirt, they left with visions of bloodied limbs and bodies strewn all over the floor.
A homemade device, gruesomely stuffed with nuts and bolts, was detonated just outside Manchester Arena. The time was 10.33pm, just as people were leaving Ariana Grande’s concert; mums escorting their 10-year-old girls, giddy with experience of seeing one of their heroes and being allowed to stay up late; bands of teenage girls, just like us in 1994, laughing and squealing on the way to meet their dads waiting patiently in cars. A Disney star like Grande will always attract a certain crowd and we’ve all been to that concert; the screaming tweens, the pink, the glitter.
Salman Abedi, the man who did this, knew exactly who would be walking through that arena door on their way home. The barbarity is breath-taking.
Words, in situations like this, do a poor job of conveying emotions. This was an attack on children, on innocence, on joy. And what for? What reason could there be for such an assault on happiness and excitement?
So what do we do now? What do we do with the shock and despair and outrage? It seems utterly banal to trot out the often-quoted line that, ‘We won’t let them win’. Because first of all, who the hell are they? And, secondly, what is the game here? Because randomly killing children who are enjoying themselves is not a sport most of us are familiar with.
But what do we say to our young nieces, children, even ourselves, when another big event or concert is on the horizon, and along with it come fearful memories of that night? Perhaps it is this: that while the worst side of humanity raised its head outside that arena, it was met with the very best of humanity, 100 times over.
The taxi drivers who drove the injured to hospital. The passers-by who led those separated from their parents to a nearby hotel. The locals who opened their homes to keep victims safe and warm. And of course the emergency services who responded in their droves.
Race, religion, political persuasion, creed or colour; none of it mattered on the night of the Manchester Arena attack because, in the face of such an atrocity, first and foremost, we are human. And on that, the most basic and intrinsic level, we are all the same.
What unites us is our humanity. Let’s always hold onto that.
This article was originally published on 23 May 2017.
Images: Getty/Rex Features