On 22 May 2017, Figen Murray’s life changed forever when her son, Martyn Hett, was one of 22 people murdered in the Manchester Arena suicide bombing. 22-year-old Salman Abedi, a radical Islamist, had detonated a shrapnel laden homemade bomb as people were leaving the Ariana Grande concert.
I’d gone to bed early when I was woken by my daughter who appeared in my bedroom and was looking at my phone. She told me that Martyn and his friends had gone to a concert at the Arena and there had been an explosion. Martyn’s friends were looking for him frantically and she was desperately checking to see if he had tried to contact me.
I flew down the stairs where my husband was watching the newsflash. He tried to reassure me, reminding me that Martyn always left concerts early and therefore was likely to be in the Gay Village ordering drinks for his mates. That night my daughter and I couldn’t sleep – we were glued to the news. Meanwhile Martyn’s friends had begun searching local hospitals.
Less than an hour after the attack I turned to my daughter Louise and said, “I know he’s dead”. She was horrified and couldn’t understand why I’d said this. My bond with Martyn was incredibly strong because he had always been a child that needed support. I felt as if someone had cut off our connection. I just had this deep feeling inside of me that he was no longer on this planet.
24 hours after the attack it was confirmed that Martyn had died. The news didn’t come as a surprise to me, so my primary concern quickly became comforting my other children who were all distraught. The next morning, after a late night when we had all stayed up trying to come to terms with this horror, to my amazement my youngest daughter came dressed in her school uniform and announced that she was going into school to sit her GCSE exams. She didn’t have to do this, but she ended up achieving 11 A*s – it seemed that this was part of how she processed her grief.
Three days after the attack, I walked past a pile of newspapers in the dining room and froze on the spot because I saw a picture of the perpetrator. I was startled by how young he was, and it challenged me to ask, “why would someone so young throw his life away and kill so many people, especially children?”
Weeks later I found myself fixated on the front cover of another newspaper. This time there was a photograph of five men forming a human chain around a man on the floor. It was a description of the Finsbury Park Mosque attack in London. The man on the floor had tried to attack Muslims as they came out of prayers and had tripped and fallen. When angry bystanders approached the attacker, in all that chaos and confusion these five worshippers had linked arms to protect him.
The picture stayed with me all day. I remembered also the picture of Salman Abedi and knew at that moment that I had to forgive. I thought about it very deep and hard and realised that for me personally there was no other choice. I knew that to forgive the attacker meant not tapping into all the anger and darkness in my heart.
I went public with my forgiveness early on because I felt it was such an important message but I have been very much the odd one out among the other bereaved families and I sense their bewilderment about my forgiveness. I often fear that people see me as naive and soft, but I am neither. I just feel the cycle has to break by refusing to hate, by stepping back and looking at the bigger picture and asking questions about how these terrible things happen.
Speaking about forgiveness in this context angered some members of the public and initially I got trolled quite badly, but that’s fine. I wasn’t offended. My husband is very supportive of my position, and I have raised my family not to be prejudiced and intolerant so while they themselves may not be forgiving, they are not angry.
Martyn was such an open-spirited person. He had a unique ability to transform bad situations into something different. Because this world can be so lacking in kindness and forgiveness, and because Martyn was always so kind and caring, I am inspired to carry on his message of tolerance. He wouldn’t want me to hate or be bitter so instead I want to spread peace, love and kindness.
Since the Manchester Arena attack I have felt such a strong need to try and understand why some people are driven to do such incomprehensible things. I am currently undertaking a Master’s degree in counter-terrorism and have come to understand that the real perpetrators are not the individuals who carry out these acts but those who manipulate them. These young people are used by the ideology and machinery behind them, radicalised to the point where they become convinced of the rightness of their actions. Terrorism is not an act against individuals, it is an act against regimes and organisations. Salman Abedi didn’t care who he killed, Martyn and others were caught in an attack aimed at the UK government.
Because of this I choose not to fall into blind hatred which I know will cause only more heartache and pain. Someone once asked me if I blamed myself for Martyn’s death. I said that I didn’t, but that I know that by being part of this world I have been part of the society that created monsters.