MANCHESTER, United Kingdom — An American who attended Catholic schools in Philadelphia was among three friends stabbed to death in a suspected terror attack in England.
Joe Ritchie-Bennett, 39, was stabbed in the neck and armpit in Forbury Gardens, Reading, June 20 by a lone knifeman identified as Khairi Saadallah, who was arrested at the scene after he was overpowered by an off-duty police officer.
UK police confirmed that history teacher James Furlong, 36, also died in the attack. The third victim has been identified as David Wails, a scientist.
Two other men are being treated in the hospital for knife injuries, while a third has been discharged.
Ritchie-Bennett was raised in northeast Philadelphia and attended St. Dominic School and later Father Judge High School.
He moved to the UK about 15 years ago and worked first for a London-based law firm, then for a Dutch pharmaceutical company with its UK headquarters in Reading, 40 miles west of London.
His father, Robert Ritchie, a retired police officer, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that his son was an “absolutely fabulous guy.”
“I absolutely love my son with all of my heart and all of my soul,” he said.
Saadallah, 25, came to the UK from Libya after fighting in the 2012 civil war that led to the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi.
Saadallah claimed asylum on the grounds that his moderate views put him at risk of persecution by Islamists and was allowed to stay in the UK beginning in 2018. An assessment found that he had no religious or ideological motivations but discovered mental health problems, according to reports in the British press.
He was nonetheless considered a person of interest by MI5, the British intelligence service, following a tip off about his “aspiration to travel” to Syria, possibly for extremist reasons, but the 2019 inquiry into him was later closed.
In 2019, Saadallah was jailed for 26 months for offenses that included racially aggravated assault and carrying a knife, but was released in early June after the Court of Appeal reduced his sentence.
British media have reported that the victims were gay and are speculating if there might be a homophobic motive for the attack.
Ritchie-Bennett changed his surname after he entered a civil partnership in 2006 with Ian Bennett, who died of colon cancer in 2014 at the age of 32.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a June 21 statement he was “appalled and sickened that people should lose their lives in this way.”
“Our thoughts are very much with the family and the friends of the victims today,” he added.