Reading terror attack: Teachers and students gather to remember victim James Furlong

22 June 2020, 14:23

Colleagues and pupils of teacher James Furlong take part in a period of silence at the Holt School, Wokingham
Colleagues and pupils of teacher James Furlong take part in a period of silence at the Holt School, Wokingham. Picture: PA

By Kate Buck

Mourners have gathered at the Holt School to remember teacher James Furlong, who died in the Reading terror attack.

The 36-year-old was one of three people killed during the incident at around 7pm on Saturday in Forbury Gardens, Reading town centre.

More than 100 students and teachers gathered at the school in Wokingham today to take part in a two-minute silence to remember him.

A flag in the school's courtyard had been lowered to half-mast as the school bell was rang out to mark the start of the silence.

Mr Furlong was head of history, government and politics at The Holt School in Wokingham.

James Furlong was the head of the history department
James Furlong was the head of the history department. Picture: PA
Flowers were laid at his school today and a two minute silence was held
Flowers were laid at his school today and a two minute silence was held. Picture: PA

Around 200 former pupils and parents at The Holt School have asked the headteachers and governors to rename the school's humanities block in Mr Furlong's memory.

In an open letter, the former students wrote: "His deep knowledge and love for his subject, his nurturing spirit and his unfaltering kindness towards his students are treasured by all who knew him.

"Though future cohorts of students will never have the privilege of being taught by James, we firmly believe that he should be remembered and honoured by all that pass through its doors.

Read more: Tributes paid to American man, 39, named as second victim of Reading terror attack

Read more: Reading stabbing attack suspect Khairi Saadallah known to MI5

"James' legacy is one of wisdom, self-sacrifice, resilience and determination.

"We thank him for his patience, his gentleness and his sincere dedication to his students, colleagues, friends and family. He is loved, and remembered with fondness and admiration."

Wokingham Town Mayor Tony Lack and wife Claire light a candle in St Paul's Parish Church, Wokingham, for teacher James Furlong
Wokingham Town Mayor Tony Lack and wife Claire light a candle in St Paul's Parish Church, Wokingham, for teacher James Furlong. Picture: PA

The former pupil who worded the letter, who did not want to be identified, told the PA news agency it was important to memorialise the teacher in a "tangible" way.

The pupil said: "He was a deeply funny, witty man with a really dry sense of humour. He had a little bit of snark to him and it was really refreshing and he brought a real vibrancy to the community.

"He was deeply loved and valued and there are people that are going to carry with them the lessons that he gave us and the kindness he showed us, we'll carry that with us for the rest of our lives I hope, at least I will.

"I hope he did know the impact he had on his students, the fact that we got around 200 signatures in just a couple of hours shows just how important he was to so many people in the community."

Speaking at the event held for him today, co-head-teachers Anne Kennedy and Katie Pearce said Mr Furlong was " very kind and gentle man" in a heartfelt tribute delivered at the school.

"He had a real sense of duty and cared for each and every one of our students," Ms Kennedy said.

"He truly inspired everyone he taught through his passion for his subject and his dedication."

Crowds gather to remember the popular teacher
Crowds gather to remember the popular teacher. Picture: PA
Flowers are laid at the school in memory of James Furlong
Flowers are laid at the school in memory of James Furlong. Picture: PA

Ms Pearce said counsellors would be available for students, adding: "Words cannot describe our shock and sadness at this time.

"He was a cherished colleague and he will be very sadly missed."

The students clapped at the end of statement, while many laid flowers at the school gates.

Mr Furlong died after a knifeman launched an attack in in Forbury Gardens on Saturday, which is being investigated as a terror incident by police.

Three people died in the attack, with the second victim being named as Joe Ritchie-Bennett, 39, an American who had been living in the UK for the past 15 years.

It is understood Mr Furlong and Mr Ritchie-Bennett were friends.

Students remembered Mr Furlong as "always smiling".

Joe Ritchie-Bennett was named as the second victim
Joe Ritchie-Bennett was named as the second victim. Picture: PA

Ella Banbury, 17, said: "He was just a really kind teacher. You would always see him smile - there wouldn't be a time where you wouldn't see him smiling.

"He wasn't just there to teach the subject, he wanted to make sure everyone is OK."

Kate La Cumbra, 17, said: "I joined the school this year and I didn't have any subjects with him but even if you didn't know him, around school he would always be happy to help you,"

"He'd always smile at you, say hi."

Another student, Poppy Hind, 17, added: "His smile was the main thing. He would walk around school with a massive smile on his face every single day."

The suspect in the attack, named as Khairi Saadallah, 25, was detained by officers from Thames Valley Police a short distance from the site of the attack and arrested on suspicion of murder.

He was later re-arrested under Section 41 of the Terrorism Act, which gives police the power to detain him without charge for up to 14 days.

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