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One year on, victims of Barcelona terror attack still in trauma: “Why did we lose what we love the most?”

Survivors and families of those killed in the tragedy continue to undergo therapy in an effort to rebuild their lives

The parents of the three-year-old boy killed in the attack on La Rambla in Barcelona and the local Iman.
The parents of the three-year-old boy killed in the attack on La Rambla in Barcelona and the local Iman.

“There comes a time when you have to stop thinking about it,” says Elisabet Caritg who lost her mother, Pepita Codína, in La Rambla terrorist attack on August 17 last year. Pepita was run over by the van driven into pedestrians by Younes Abouyaaqoub – an act that killed 13 and injured 130, one of whom died subsequently in hospital. Caritg, who suffered multiple fractures and a blow to the head, is still in therapy. “It is very difficult to talk about,” she says.

As a father, I know what it is to lose a son, but to lose a son, knowing what he has done, must be harder

Javier García, whose three-year-old child was killed in the attack

Alicia Suárez was run down in Cambrils, Tarragona, the following day when five members of the same terrorist cell mowed down pedestrians on the seafront promenade, killing one and injuring six more. On vacation from Zaragoza, Suárez was enjoying an ice cream with her family when she was hit. “I don’t want to talk about it,” she says. Her sister Ana was stabbed to death when the terrorists abandoned their vehicle and attacked bystanders with knives.

One year on, all the survivors and the victims’ families are struggling to come to terms with the tragedy and few want to talk about it in public. Only two of those contacted by EL PAÍS are prepared to explain what they are going through. Most say their pain is still too raw.

The only Barcelona resident who died in La Rambla attack was Silvina Pereyra. Of Bolivian origin, she worked in the Boqueria market at the Vidal Pons fruit and juices stall. But a spokesman for Vidal Pons also declined to comment, saying that “the experience was very brutal and we still have staff who are affected emotionally by it.”

Alicia Suárez’s pelvis and hip were fractured in Cambrils and she lost some of her teeth, as her brother-in-law Roque Oriol explained to the Aragón Herald in June in one of his few statements to the media. Oriol, who was married to Ana and was also injured in Cambrils, is still receiving therapy and is still suffering the effects of hemorrhaging in his head.

There comes a time when you have to stop thinking about it

Elisabet Caritg, who lost her mother in the attack

One of the few to have spoken publicly about his pain in the aftermath of the tragedy is Javier García, father of the three-year-old Xavi from Rubí who was killed on La Rambla along with his uncle Francisco López. In his most recent interview, which was broadcast on TV3 on July 28, García indicated that the press had not given the victims and their families space to grieve. “There are journalists who do harm, who need to understand that we are people who are suffering,” he said in the interview. “They have not let us grieve properly.” García has also suggested that the protocol toward family members could be improved. In his particular case, he had to wait four days before he could bury his son.

Famously photographed hugging a local Iman, García is intent on trying to make sure Xavi’s death wasn’t in vain. To this end, he has become interested in the problems the terrorists may have had in integrating with their local community in Rípoli. And though he hasn’t been able to, he was keen to meet the parents of his son’s killer. “I wanted to meet the family,” he says. “As a father, I know what it is to lose a son, but to lose a son, knowing what he has done, must be harder.”

Bearing the loss

Juan Zapatero is a priest and the cousin of Conchita Villán, the mother of Pau Pérez, who was kidnapped and killed by the terrorist Younes Abouyaaqoub as he fled from the scene of his crime. Zapatero, who held a mass for Pérez and has written various articles dedicated to his nephew, gives Pau’s parents emotional support as they try to come to terms with their son’s death. “There are still times when they can’t believe it. They were not prepared for the loss. I tell them that they have to stop thinking about it because it will drive them mad,” he says.

Zapatero also explains that it took many days before the family could see and bury Pau. According to the priest, the parents became obsessed with knowing exactly how Pau died and their lawyer had to persuade them that, for their own mental well-being, they needed to let the matter drop.

Canadian police inspector Fiona Wilson, whose father Ian Moore Wilson was killed in the attack, issued a statement last August requesting the media desist from contacting her family further. A year on, she remains silent.

All I want now is peace, nature and to be far from crowds

Elisabet Caritg, who lost her mother in the attack

In her statement, Wilson paid tribute to her father and thanked various people for the help they gave her family after the attack, particularly the Barcelona resident who took a member of her family to hospital on his motorbike.

American Heidi Nunes Tucker, whose husband Jared Tucker was among those killed in Barcelona, also failed to respond to attempts by EL PAÍS to contact her. In an isolated exchange with the media last year, she explained to Associated Press that she wanted to contact the last person to speak to her husband – a waiter from a café on La Rambla, who, judging from video footage, tried to save his life.

Nothing, of course, can prepare ordinary people for such a devastating event. Caritg and her mother, for example, had gone to Barcelona to do some shopping. “You still ask yourself lots of questions,” she said. “How could it have been allowed to happen if they knew there was a risk? Why are there people who have contact with these people? Why did we lose what we love the most?”

Caritg has only returned once to Barcelona since the attacks for a doctor’s appointment, but she avoided La Rambla. “All I want now is peace, nature and to be far from crowds. I hope with time I return to being the person I was,” she says, adding: “You have to stop thinking about it.”

68 victims recognized to date

The Spanish Interior Ministry has so far recognized 68 victims from the attacks in Barcelona, Cambrils and Les Cases d’Alcanar in Tarragona.

This is just 41% of the 306 cases brought to the attention of the Directorate-General for the Support of the Victims of Terrorism in the aftermath of the attacks.

To date, the government has paid out €9.3 million in compensation and medical attention. Following the events in Barcelona, the Attention and Valuation Unit for those Affected by Terrorism (UAVAT) was set up and, according to staff member Roberto Manrique, 92 people have been assessed and treated by the organization in the last year.

Manrique states that there are still many victims waiting for recognition from the government, adding that he would like the Interior Ministry to extend the period for receiving requests. A spokesman for the ministry has agreed that there are still 112 people with physical injuries waiting for their cases to be resolved.

The government has awarded the Cross of Civil Merit to 12 of the 16 dead. Only three families have refused the honor – one Spanish, one Belgian and one American.

English version by Heather Galloway.

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