‘I realised how fragile our lives are’ – victims relive Parsons Green nightmare
IN THE early hours of yesterday morning 13-year-old Alex Ojeda-Sierra woke up with nightmares.
And no wonder.
Just a few hours earlier the young schoolboy had been caught up in the terror of the Parsons Green bomb attack and on going to sleep had relived the entire ordeal.
For the adults caught up in the attack it was horrific enough. One can only imagine the fear and bewilderment experienced by those children whose routine journey to school suddenly became a nightmare of smoke, noise and panicked crowds
Alex’s ordeal began as he made his way to the London Oratory School on the District Line train. Suddenly he heard screaming and saw passengers running past him on to the platform.
Unknown to him a homemade bomb had partly detonated in the last carriage of the train, creating a fireball and sending people fleeing for the lives.
As they tried to make their way up the stairs and out of the station to street level, the schoolboy found himself caught up in the crush.
He was flattened by fleeing passengers as he tripped down the second flight of the steep tube station steps.
“I dropped my bag and we started running,” Alex said. “One man fell on me and I had my legs bent backwards and my right ankle got twisted, and I started screaming.”
Compounding his fear was the fact his older brother Robert, 15, had boarded the train behind, after the two had become separated at Wimbledon station on their way to school when the eldest boy stopped to go to the lavatory.
Arriving at Parsons Green moments after the blast, Michael Perry, a fourthyear medical student, heard “screams and wailing” and spotted Alex, who was bleeding and bruised after being caught up in the panic.
Mr Perry, 29, said: “He had a massive scrape, bleeding and contusion on his forehead where he had been knocked forward, as well as gashes on his tummy and side where he had been stepped on. He had lost his brother, Robert, and was absolutely terrified and worried about him.”
He said the injuries he saw were “consistent with a stampede” and said: “It was so frightening. I’m fine, but I really worry for these kids, what are they going to carry with them?”
Alex, who was photographed being carried away from the station by two firefighters, was taken to Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, where he was treated for facial bruises and sprains.
Meanwhile, Robert had borrowed a fellow passenger’s phone to alert his parents to what was happening. Soon after Alex, in a “very emotional call”, managed to contact his desperately anxious mother, Maria, from the hospital and let her know he was safe. His father, Robert Ojeda-Sierra, told
The Sunday Telegraph: “He was close to the explosion, but not actually caught up in the blast. He was in the second carriage at the front and the explosion was at the back of the train so he had further to run than everyone else. He was caught up in the stampede with cuts and bruises. He tripped half way there and someone landed on him.
“Luckily, Robert was in the next train behind. He then got off at East Putney and he went to Clapham.
“His mum, my wife Maria, told Robert to head to school. I was panicked as you can imagine, Maria was upset. I found out when my wife phoned me and gave me the news.”
“He’s got bruises on his head and side, nothing too heavy. It’s more mental than physical,” he added.
After being released from hospital Alex spent the rest of the day playing, but suffered a disturbed night, waking up repeatedly with night terrors.
Mr Ojeda-Sierra, an economist, said Alex had been annoyed when he heard that initial media reports described him as 10-years-old.
Within moments of the attack a photograph of the schoolboy, a blanket wrapped around his shoulders, was posted on Twitter with the caption: “Hope this little man finds his brother”.
Seeing the photograph Mrs OjedoSierra downloaded the Twitter app on to her phone in order to thank everyone who had expressed concern.
“I can’t thank the school enough, and the police,” she said. “They were brilliant. I was very concerned about my son yes, but there have been people worst affected.
“Alex was very frightened, but life goes on. I had a very emotional call to him, but glad he’s OK physically. Mentally it may take a little longer. We just want to get some normality back in our lives now.”
Also caught up in the terror was Anna Gorniack, who was on her way to work when she looked up to see a fireball coming her way. She now says she is lucky to still be alive.
“I was on my phone and the next thing I can see is people running and screaming. I looked to my right and I could see a fireball coming our way,” said Ms Gorniak, a marketing and media manager at a London hospitality company.
“At that moment I thought ‘it’s a bomb and it’s for real’ so I started running. Unfortunately I had a fall so I found myself on the floor and at that moment I really felt this is my last moment. In my head I was repeating prayers in my head in my native Polish. When I saw it was OK to get up and out of the train I did that.”
Ms Gorniak, a devout Christian, added: “I’ve never been so close to something life threatening – I just realised how fragile our lives are and we never know when it’s our time.
“I wasn’t able to be calm and pray. I’m just very thankful that I was protected but I know my life is in someone else’s hands. I will be praying through the coming days. I’m thankful to God I’m still alive.”
Another of those whose daily commute became the stuff of nightmares was Natalie Belford, 42, from Graves- end, Kent, who felt the intense heat from the blast as the device went off.
“The train was packed, and I was down the other side of the carriage standing up, looking at my phone and then I heard a big boom and felt this heat on my face,” said Ms Belford, 42, a hairdresser and beautician.
“I ran for my life, but there was no way out. The doors were full of people and the carriage was too packed to move down.”
Outside Parsons Green station, the surrounding community, almost as a reflex, was responding in the way others around London and the rest of the country subjected to attack have done.
Shops and homes opened their doors. Tea, coffee and water was distributed to frightened commuters and the hard-pressed emergency services.
Rev Tim Stilwell, whose St Dionis Church is yards from the scene, realised a major incident had happened when he heard sirens and opened the vicarage door to see lines of fire engines.
Among those he helped were two 11-year-old girls from nearby Lady Margaret School, who were in the carriage when the bomb exploded.
Although shaken and upset, the girls were determined to get to school to continue their lessons, their main concern being that the bomb had burnt their homework.
“One girl was in the carriage and her homework got burnt. She managed to get off and went to school,” Rev Tim Stilwell said. “My wife and I spent time with the children at the school afterwards to make sure they were OK. They were in high spirits and so resilient.”
Alex Ojeda-Sierra, 13, is carried away by firemen after being trampled in the panic following the Tube attack, right. A police officer and a soldier at the entrance to Horse Guards Parade in Whitehall, left
Counter-terrorism officers at the address in Sunbury on Thames with a blast shield