The stabbing death of three gay friends in the terror attack at Reading, around 40 miles from London, has shocked the small town and the LGBTQI community in the United Kingdom.

A GoFundMe campaign, set up to help the families of the three victims and pay for the funeral costs, has already raised over £2,000. The campaign is also hoping to raise enough funds for a permanent tribute within the Forbury Gardens where the attacks took place.

James Furlong, a 36-year-old history teacher, American Joe Ritchie-Bernett (39), who worked with a global pharmaceutical company and lived in the UK for the past 15 years, and David Wails, a scientists were at Forbury Gardens in the heart of Reading when they were stabbed to death on the night of June 20, 2020.

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 The Thames Valley police apprehended the suspect, 25-year-old Khairi Saadallah, who was initially booked for murder but has now been handed terror charges under section 41 of The Terrorism Act. Saadallah, had arrived in the UK from Libya as a refugee in 2012.

Media reports said that Saadallah had come under the scanner of MI5 over the possibility that he might travel overseas for terrorism purposes but it was concluded that he was “not a genuine threat of an immediate risk.”

Martin Cooper, CEO, of Reading Pride said the three were personal friends of his and regulars at the Blagrave, a gay pub near the Flobury Gardens.

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“James, Joe and David were true gentlemen. Each with their own unique personality… They were supporters of Reading as a community and of Reading Pride… They were a support network for individuals and I know they will be sorely missed by many.”

The Thames Valley Police released a statement from Furlong’s parents Gary and Janet: “James was a wonderful man. He was beautiful, intelligent, honest and fun. He was the best son, brother, uncle and partner you could wish for. We are thankful for the memories he gave us all. We will never forget him and he will live in our hearts forever.”

Former students and the community paid their tributes to Furlong who was the head of history, government and politics at the Holt school in Wokingham.

Ritchie-Bennett had moved to the UK from Philadelphia. Friends told the media that his partner Ian (32) had died of cancer in 2014. Wails was a senior scientist at a British multi-national chemicals company.

The three friends were at the Forbury Gardens, which had been the venue for a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest earlier in the day. The police said that the incident was not linked to the BLM protest.

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While the police declared it as a terror incident, it was not clear if it was a homophobic attack or a hate crime, as many users on social media claimed it was. The Thames Valley police urged the media not to speculate about the case.

“I would ask both the media and the public again not to speculate on any aspect of this case at this time as this could have an impact on the ongoing investigation and any future court appearances. Counter Terrorism Policing have taken on the responsibility for this investigation and are keeping an open mind as to the motive for this attack, ” Detective Chief Superintendent Kath Barnes, Head of Counter Terrorism Policing South East in a statement to the media.

Stonewall UK in a statement paid tributes to the victims and urged that “we can’t let Islamophobic, racist and xenophobic rhetoric be used to divide us. We must stand together to make progress.”

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