Ariana Grande had finished a 22-song concert with an encore of “Dangerous Woman” and a shower of pink balloons in Manchester, England last night (Monday, May 22nd) at around 10:30 p.m., when a bomb went off in the foyer of the venue, in an area opposite the stage. “It was so strong it blew people backwards,” 15-year-old concertgoer Elliot Smorger tells Rolling Stone. “I had no idea what was going on and just covered my head. It was so scary.” He suffered cuts from metal shrapnel scratching the side of his head. Others were not so lucky.
The blast has claimed the lives of 22 concertgoers, at press time, and it sent 59 others to the hospital, making it the deadliest such attack in the country since 2005. The Islamic State has since claimed responsibility for the attack, according to The New York Times. Salman Abedi, a 22-year-old British man of Libyan descent, has been identified as the Manchester Arena bomber, the New York Times reports. Abedi lived 3.5 miles away from the venue.
Since the detonation occurred at a time when concertgoers would be leaving the 21,000-capacity venue, it caused widespread confusion. The crowd, many of whom were teenagers or younger and some of whom had attended without their parents, began stampeding for exits. Video and photos of the immediate aftermath show children and some parents running and screaming, as they dashed for the exits. Other parents, expecting to pick up their children at meeting points, patiently watched the melee hoping to spot their kids. And as others made their way up the arena stairs, an announcer with an American accent told the crowd, “Please take your time. There’s no need to bunch up. There’s no problems here. … Everything is fine.”
Meanwhile, those working at the nearby Victoria Station railway – a one-minute walk from the arena – were still making sense of the explosion they heard. “Even with all the training, nothing can prepare you for knowing a bomb is near you,” Craig Rowe, a Network Rail employee, tells Rolling Stone Tuesday morning. Once those working there assessed what had happened, they elevated security measures in the station as they anticipated the heavy foot traffic it would be receiving.
“They think the bomber only targeted the entrance and exit point because he feared he would be sussed otherwise if he tried to go any further in,” Rowe says. “Armed police were everywhere and they came running into the station, I think they feared there was another one here. Everything was shut down and the emergency code was activated. They did a sweep but nothing was found.”
Shortly after the explosion, a representative for Grande reported that the singer was “OK.” She later tweeted: “Broken. From the bottom of my heart, I am so so sorry. I don’t have words.”
Police had begun responding to reports of an incident at the arena at around 10:54 p.m., when they sent a tweet asking for people to stay away from the area. By 11:44, they were reporting “confirmed fatalities.” Hours later, they reported that they were treating the explosion as a terrorist attack. Around that time, they also detonated their own “controlled explosion” in Cathedral Garden and later reported that it had been abandoned clothing. They also set up a phone number for those who were concerned about their loved ones.
Meanwhile, concerned adults in the area attempted to look after displaced children. Paula Robinson, a 48-year-old woman who was at Victoria Station at the time of the blast, collected more than 50 kids and took them to a nearby hotel where she looked after them and served as a point of contact for parents, putting her phone number on Facebook.
“I did nothing that nobody else would do,” she told Rolling Stone. “I thought of my own kids and I just know what I would have wanted them to be looked after and taken away from the area if I couldn’t have done it. … I have children and I have grandkids, it makes me feel sick to think of those little lives lost.” She added that she was “no hero.”
Police were reporting Tuesday afternoon that all of the children who had been in hotels were accounted for.
At just past 6:30 in the morning, Greater Manchester Police Chief Constable Ian Hopkins issued a statement called the attack the “most horrific incident” the city had had to face. He said that those injured were being treated at eight different hospitals in the city. He claimed that the attack had been carried out by one man who had died in the arena. Police had dispatched more patrolmen on Tuesday and Hopkins reported that more than 400 had worked on the investigation overnight.
Hours later, authorities reported that they had arrested a 23-year-old man in connection with the bombing in South Manchester. They did not reveal his identity or any other information.
They also executed warrants to investigate the attack in the Whalley Range and Fallowfield areas, both of which are about four miles south of the arena. The Manchester Evening News reported that locals saw bomb disposal experts and about 40 uniformed police officers, half of whom were carrying machine guns, in Fallowfield; they set off a controlled explosion. Residents in Whalley Range reported a similar scene but with fewer officers.
Mayor Andy Burnham has subsequently planned a vigil for 6 p.m. in Manchester City Centre’s Albert Square. With that announcement, police released a statement that underscored while the arena remains cordoned off, “Manchester will not be defeated.”
Theresa May, the country’s prime minister, called the attack “callous” and said that the bomber had planned it in a way that would cause “maximum carnage.” “This attack stands out for its appalling, sickening cowardice, deliberately targeting innocent and defenceless young people who should have been enjoying one of the most memorable nights of their lives,” she said.
President Trump called the attackers “evil losers in life,” while on a visit to Bethlehem, Israel. “I won’t call them monsters because they would like that term, they would think that is a great name,” he said. “I will call them, from now on, losers, because that’s what they are: They’re losers. And we’ll have more of them. But they’re losers, just remember that … This wicked ideology must be obliterated, and I mean completely obliterated.”
“Terrorists attempt to disrupt our lives and create distrust and fear in communities,” Chief Constable Hopkins said in his 6:30 statement. “We have a long history in Greater Manchester of communities standing together during difficult times.”
It’s a sentiment that rail-worker Rowe echoed Tuesday, though Victoria Station is closed for the time being. “I was back in this morning and I have to say I am so proud of how this city has got back on its feet,” he says. “Manchester is a strong city and although it is awful, it has brought people together. People won’t let these idiots stop us. I’m proud to be British on days like today.”
Additional reporting by Sian Hewitt and Omid Scobie from Britain.