Three weeks ago, gunman Seifeddine Rezgui massacred 38 tourists on a Tunisian beach. Debbie Horsfall, 22, from Huddersfield reveals how it feels to be a survivor.
I’m still having flashbacks about being on that beach in Sousse. It was so hot, everything was perfectly calm, and then the gunshots just exploded out of nowhere.
I was certain I was going to die that day, and it’s still so shocking to open the newspaper and see my face, alongside the words ‘terrorist attack’.
A month before the shootings my friend Ellie and I booked our holiday online. Sousse was affordable – prices were low because of the previous attack at the country’s Bardo National Museum in March.
When I told my dad he said: “Does it have to be Tunisia?” but we reassured him we’d be spending all our time at the hotel and away from tourist hotspots, and that’s what we did for the first two days – playing tennis and going to the beach.
The morning of Friday 26 June was just a normal day. We’d just been for a swim and were drying off on the beach when I heard what sounded like gunshots. I dismissed them as fireworks, but Ellie sat bolt upright; she had spotted the gunman in the near distance with a huge rifle slung over his shoulder. As soon as I looked up I could sense her panic, and adrenaline jolted through my veins as she shouted: “He’s got a gun, run!”
People sprinted off the beach. We were all ducking low, terrified that we were going to be shot in the back. I ran as fast as I could. Rezgui was picking people off on their sun loungers behind me, but I never looked back. All I heard was white noise. Although I was gasping for breath I was focused on getting back to the hotel. Back to safety.
We arrived to panic and confusion. Some people were bleeding – having fallen over as they tried to get away – and others were blacking out from the shock.
One woman was in hysterics. Her husband had been shot. They’d been separated and she was on her knees, screaming that she didn’t know if he was alive. Later we found out this was Saera Wilson, whose fiancé Matthew had used his body as a human shield to protect her – luckily he survived.
Terrified voices echoed across the lobby as people rang their families to tell them they loved them. We felt relatively safe because we were inside, but soon we heard more gunshots. People started to cry and wail. Suddenly, someone came running in shouting that the gunman was coming, and everybody scattered. I simply thought, ‘I’m going to die’.
Ellie and I had been separated and I was ushered into a room with 10 others, where I hid down the back of the bed. It was at that point that the enormity of what was happening dawned on me, and I felt physically sick. My mouth was so dry I could barely speak. Prior to being in that room I hadn’t wanted to ring my family. I couldn’t bear the thought of telling them I was OK, only for them to discover that I had been shot dead straight afterwards. But right then I was terrified that I might never hear their voices again, so I called.
As soon as my dad picked up I said, “There’s a man with a gun, we’re hiding in a room.” There was silence on the other end of the line. “Oh God,” he eventually said, before he broke down. I wanted him to tell me that I’d get out of this alive but, of course, he couldn’t. He stayed on the phone as we sat in that room, waiting for the police to give the all-clear, which came about 30 minutes later. I was reunited with Ellie, who had locked herself in a bathroom with a British family.
Later that day we flew back to the UK. As soon as I saw my mum at the airport I sprinted towards her and ran into her arms. I’ve not needed to feel safe like that since I was a child.
Now I’m home, I just feel guilty. So many people on that beach didn’t make it; I am here living my life, and they are not. Knowing how terrifying it was, I can’t even begin to imagine how awful it was for those whose loved ones will never return.
When I first got home I struggled to even leave the house, but now I’m back at work. Everyone – my family, my colleagues and even the gym regulars at the tennis club where I work – have been great; they understand I just want everything to return back to normal as soon as possible. The more I think about it the more surreal it seems.
Talking about it with Ellie is my only way of processing how lucky we both are to be alive, but it’s still difficult getting my head around everything we’ve been through. Sometimes, in quiet moments I find myself googling Rezgui and that, now famous, picture of him always comes up. In it, he is sat between two rifles, grinning at the camera. That picture makes me feel sick.
Rezgui was a seemingly normal 23-yearold. Just one year older than me. I will never be able to forget what he did, but I am resilient and determined to live the life I’m lucky to still have.