Analysis

'It hits a nerve for us all': Manchester reeling from concert attack that killed 22

The Manchester Arena attacker targeted a venue full of girls and young women, and that has hit a nerve in the northern England city.

'That anyone could go out to a concert and not come home is heartbreaking'

Two young women embrace at a vigil for the victims of the Manchester Arena attack, in central Manchester, Tuesday, May 23, 2017. (Darren Staples/Reuters)

Only at the deepest end of callousness could a homemade bomb find purpose in a sea of pink balloons.

It is the same kind of cruelty that once brought death to a lively concert hall in Paris, a teenage island retreat in Norway and an ice cream parlour in Baghdad buzzing with little children.

If that was your sister or your mom ... you'd want somebody to take them home or to emergency services.- A.J. Singh, taxi driver

On Monday night, though, it incongruously and seemingly deliberately crashed into the unsuspecting, gleeful world of young girls.

And so it meant the first victim to be identified was an 18-year-old college student named Georgina Callander. A dedicated fan of Ariana Grande. The two were once photographed together.

Inconceivably, it also meant Saffie Rose Rousso, an eight-year-old attending her first concert, has now seen her last.

'A tremendous shock'

Manchester — the gritty home of music legends — is beside itself with grief.

Georgina Callander, 18, left, and Saffie Rose Rousso, 8, were two of 22 victims of Monday's bombing. (Instagram; PA/Associated Press)

"The thought that anyone could go out to a concert and not come home is heartbreaking," said Chris Upton, the principal at Saffie's primary school.

The news, he said, "has come as a tremendous shock."

That the attacker hurt anyone was upsetting enough. That it happened in their city, at a concert where young people were supposed to have fun, was enraging.

That the attacker targeted a venue full of girls has hit a nerve in Manchester, as it has well beyond.

Residents bewildered at what's happened in their midst have thrown themselves into helping — sheltering survivors, bringing gifts and supplies for the injured in hospitals and giving people free rides.

Ask a question or two, though, and the tears come swiftly.

"They were hurt. They had no way home," said A.J. Singh, a taxi driver who spent the night ferrying concertgoers to safety.

"What would you do?" he asked tearfully. "If that was your sister or your mom ... you'd want somebody to take them home or to emergency services ... They've been through hell."

"They were hurt, they had no way home. They had no communication with their parents. It’s my duty as a Sikh to help," says A.J. Singh 1:46

And so, what is there left to do or say when children — girls and boys — are fair game, increasingly drawn into such horror. When a concert hall becomes a battleground, and a long-anticipated event turns into a long memory of tragedy.

And how exactly to react when young kids are exchanging condolences instead of stories.

Wednesday's edition of the Metro UK newspaper shows a photo of Saffie. It's not yet clear how many of the victims were women or girls or whether women were intentionally targeted, but many of those attending the concert were female. (Nahlah Ayed, CBC)

Sadly, there is a long list of cities that can offer advice from experience: from Istanbul to Paris, Berlin and Asriya in Iraq, where last year, more than 40 boys, most under 17, were killed in a soccer stadium by a suicide bomber also in his teens.

It isn't just an attack on innocence. It is the killing of the future itself.

Manchester now joins the list. 

'I'm going through hell'

In another part of the city, at a whole other arena, parents and loved ones are still, supported by counsellors, going through their own version of hell.

Their continuing vigil for the missing speaks of some hope that the children they wait for are out there somewhere, just waiting to be found.

A girl leaves flowers for the victims a day after the attack. (Peter Nicholls/Reuters)

But the fallen, tearful faces betray their heartbreak. Nothing could ease even the thought of a child slipping through a mother's fingers.

"I'm going through hell. I can't even explain what I'm going through," Charlotte Campbell, mother of 15-year-old Olivia Campbell-Hardy, said Tuesday when her daughter was still missing. By Wednesday, her daughter was confirmed to have been among the victims.

Mother appeals for help to find missing daughter after Manchester attack 0:21

A post by Campbell on Facebook said her daughter was "taken far, far too soon": 

Many here could easily imagine being in her shoes.

"It hits a nerve for us all," said John Morris of the British Red Cross. "I have five grandchildren, and you're aware of friends and family who were there. Yeah, it's a difficult time."

Ariana Grande tweeted yesterday that she was "broken." She's not the only one.

We know at least 22 people died. In the coming days, their names, too, will be revealed. And many will be the names of young girls.

About the Author

Nahlah Ayed

Foreign Correspondent

Nahlah Ayed is a CBC News correspondent based in London. A veteran of foreign reportage, she's covered major world events and spent nearly a decade working in and covering conflicts across the Middle East. Earlier, Ayed was a parliamentary reporter for The Canadian Press.