By Kent Larsen
Omagh's LDS Survivor Still Suffering
OMAGH, NORTHERN IRELAND -- More than three years after the worst atrocity in
Northern Ireland's 30-year-long civil war, known as the Troubles, LDS Church
member Marion Radford is still suffering from the blast, struggling to
overcome its deep psychological wounds, caused both by her own injuries, and
by the death of her 16-year-old son, Alan. Events like the terrorist attacks
on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, a detailed public inquest into the
bombing and the recent discovery of a 130-pound pipe bomb just 12 miles from
Omagh, keep the tragedy fresh in her mind, leading to new rounds of panic
Alan was just a week away from getting the results of his General
Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) test, a national high-school-level
exam required under the national curriculum in the United Kingdom. He was
expecting to start culinary school in another month.
Each Saturday mother and son would go into town together to shop, but on
Friday, August 14, 1998, Alan told his mother that he didn't want to go. But
his mother pressed him, asking, "Why do you not want to go to town?" and
Alan told her, "Oh, I just don't want to go tomorrow," according to Marion
Radford's later account. She said she asked him to go with her the next day
The car bomb left by the Real IRA terrorist group exploded at 3:10 pm on
August 15, 1998, killing 29 people and injuring as many as 400 in the area
where Radford and her son, Alan were shopping at the time. An inquest said
that following a warning, shoppers were mistakenly evacuated into the area
where the bomb was located. Marion Radford recalls "I remember saying to
Alan, 'I want to leave this country as I'm sick of it. You can't go into the
town but there are bomb scares.' " Omagh had received many bomb threats, but
this was the Radford's first experience with one. Since the tragedy, Omagh
has been the subject of 67 additional bomb alerts.
Radford reports that she then said to Alan, "I want to go home," but that he
then replied, "Wait a minute, it's probably a hoax." So Marion Radford went
into a fruit and vegetable shop, The Salad Bowl, leaving Alan outside. While
she was in the shop the bomb exploded.
In the ensuing chaos, Marion remembers an urgent need to find Alan, "I
thought I need to find Alan, you know, I need to find Alan. That's all was
in my mind, finding Alan, and then this girl came and I was bleeding, you
know, I was bleeding a lot because I had on a white t-shirt and the blood...
I was just all red by this time, all round my front and this girl, she
pulled me back and she said 'you need to go to the hospital'."
Another son, Paul, heard about the tragedy and came to the site to search
for Alan, and ended up helping with many of the other victims. At the
hospital, Marion kept looking for her son, "I kept just watching all the
ambulances and we sat there for... it must have been hours and we were
asking, all of us.. you know, have you seen Alan, is Alan Radford's name on
their list. And there was no name of Alan on the list. Everybody was
asking, you know, everybody was so concerned. So then they sent us home, us
that were able to go home."
"I didn't see my son then until they brought him home in a coffin," Marion
recalls. "And I thought this can't be my son coming through this door. But
I remember the shrapnel wounds over the face. I didn't see his body. I
think Alan was all in one piece, as far as I know, which is something, that
maybe other families didn't even get to see their loved ones, you know. I
can't remember the shrapnel wounds and that in his face. I know he had
quite a bit but all I saw was a beautiful peace on his face, like he was at
peace and he was happy."
News of the tragedy shocked the entire world, giving a new impetus to peace
talks and contributing to the somewhat successful peace efforts since then.
Omagh and the surrounding towns laid the 29 dead to rest. Alan's funeral
included a tribute from his then 15-year-old sister entitled "Together
Again" which was printed on the program of his funeral (see
http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/omagh/aftermath/aftermath.html for the text).
For Marion, recovery from the tragedy has been very difficult. Within weeks
of the bombing, the Omagh Trauma Center was opened to treat the nearly 700
people affected by the bombing. Radford attends weekly counseling sessions,
and despite both the charity of others and the strength and comfort brought
by the Church, she is still struggling. At the public inquest, held a year
ago, Marion said she was glad she had come and told about her experiences,
"I am glad I came. I had a lot of unanswered questions, but I know now he
died rapidly and I was able to meet the policeman who was with Alan's body.
That was a great comfort to me." But it was also very hard, she added,
saying, "It has been very painful, like a horror film." Since then Marion
has fallen into a deep depression, from which she has still not recovered,
despite the weekly counseling.
Some well-intentioned people have tried to help Marion along, suggesting
that it is time to "move on." But Marion insists she isn't ready; somehow
"moving on" would mean forgetting her son. "I miss him, I miss him so much,"
she says. She keeps his room just as it was the day he died and sometimes
plays his favorite music, when she especially misses him.
The Omagh Trauma Center team's findings support her. Just 40% of
stress-disorder sufferers recover on their own within 18 months of the
bombing. Worse, only another 20% are expected to get better within 5 years.
Trauma Center head Michael Duffy says that the team's work may never end,
"There hs to be an enduring sympathetic ear within the community," and adds,
"This stuff can run for years and years." In the wake of the attacks on the
Pentagon and the World Trade Center, the Omagh Trauma Center is working on
ways to share its expertise with the U.S.
Meanwhile, Marion Radford is struggling to recover. She left Omagh as much
as possible during the first two years after the bombing and is now
considering moving abroad because "Omagh doesn't have any nice memories."
Her youngest daughter, now 18, will soon leave home, and without Alan there,
the home seems sad and empty, "When I'm in this house on my own," she says,
"it's got this empty feeling -- and maybe it's me that's empty."
[Editorial note: More than three years after the Omagh bombing, just one
Real IRA member has been convicted, leading group of the victims, the Omagh
Victims' Legal Trust, to raise more than 1 million pounds ($1.45 million US
dollars) for a civil suit against five known Real IRA members. For more
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