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Posted 19 Nov 2001   For week ended November 09, 2001
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Sent on Mormon-News: 08Nov01

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 and depression.

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 anyway.

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 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 information see: ]


In Omagh, scars of terror linger still
Philadelphia PA Inquirer 5Nov01 P2
By Andrea Gerlin: Inquirer Staff Writer

It took 12 minutes to list Omagh victims' names
Manchester UK Guardian 4Oct00 P2
By John Mullin: Ireland Correspondent

'Evil' bomb hoaxers slammed
Belfast Ireland Irish News 23Sep00 P2
By Ruth O'Reilly: PA News

Death of toddler in bomb recalled
BBC News 22Sep00 P2

Who Bombed Omagh?
BBC1 10Sep00 P2

Omagh victims are laid to rest
Belfast Ireland Telegraph 10Sep98 P2


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