Real Life

Real life: My beautiful daughter was killed in the London Bridge terrorist attacks

It was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime but tragedy struck.

By Brittany Smith

Julie Wallace, 51, from Raby Bay, Qld, shares her shocking true life story:

A smile tugged at my lips as my daughter, Sara, 21, dragged me on to the dancefloor.

"You're old," she teased. "You've got to party!"

I held Sara's hand as our hips swayed to the music.

It was my 50th birthday and Sara was determined to show me a good time.

When she heard I wasn't planning a party she threw herself into organising balloons, a cake and sombreros for a Mexican-themed shindig with family and friends.

I had a blast but my merriment was tinged with sadness.

Sara was about to head to London to work as an au pair for four months.

I wanted her to experience the world but I'd miss her terribly.

Sara and I had always shared a special bond.

She was a younger, better version of me.

We shared a positive attitude and an energetic zest for life - and shopping.

The same size and shape, we were always stealing each others clothes.

I didn't know how I'd get by without my mini-me.

To make the separation easier, my husband, Mark, and I had planned to meet with Sara in Paris, under the Eiffel Tower, three and a half months later.

"See you in Paris," Sara beamed as she walked towards the airport gate a week after my party.

Her smile had never been so wide.

I squeezed her tightly one last time then waved until she was out of sight.

She called and texted every day after that, telling us how much she loved London and the two boys she looked after.

"But we'll meet in Paris. Only 26 days to go."As Sara got ready to hang up, I smiled.

"I love you," I said.

Me and my mini-me Sara.
Me and my mini-me Sara.

The next morning I was heading back from a work event in Canberra when my best friend, Jody, called.

"Have you heard what's happened in London?" she blurted anxiously.

Since Sara had been living in the UK, two terror attacks had killed dozens of people, with one man ploughing a vehicle into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge and another bombing concertgoers in Manchester.

But I hadn't heard anything new.

"Terrorists drove their van into people on London Bridge," she explained, adding that police had shot dead three attackers.

My heart jolted but I remained calm.

Sara had always been mature, looking after her friends on nights out. She had common sense and street smarts, so I knew that even if she'd been caught up in it, she'd somehow find safety.

Besides, it was night time over there, so she'd likely be working or asleep.

But as the hours passed, I started to fret.

I called her at the time we normally spoke, but she didn't answer.

She was so excited to go to Paris. *(Image: Getty Images)*
She was so excited to go to Paris. (Image: Getty Images)

Minutes later, I jumped as my phone rang.

Sara?

It was the parents of the boys she cared for.

"We gave Sara the night off," they said, worried. "She hasn't come home."

My legs buckled. Sara was missing and dozens of people were injured, some dead.

Terrified, Mark rang the embassy and all the hospitals in London.

No one knew what had happened to our girl.

I kept calling Sara's phone, hoping she'd finally pick up.

I felt that same gut-wrenching fear as the time I'd lost her in the supermarket when she was little, but instead of lasting seconds it went on for three days.

Finally, a woman from the British counter-terrorism police called.

"We've found a body," she explained. "We haven't finished DNA testing to confirm it's Sara but we found her passport near the body."

My heart pounded as I turned to Mark.

"It's not her," I choked.

Sara had dark hair in her passport photo and looked completely different to the bright, blonde girl she normally was.

Eight people were killed and 48 injured.  *(Image: Getty Images)*
Eight people were killed and 48 injured. (Image: Getty Images)

If police had found a woman matching Sara's passport picture, then it couldn't possibly be her.

Sara was probably hurt in a hospital somewhere but she couldn't be dead.

Our son, Harrison, 17, came with us to London to find Sara.

Her older brother, Scott, 24, couldn't bear to go.

The second the wheels hit the tarmac in Abu Dhabi for a stopover, my phone rang with a video call.

It was Scott and his eyes were red with tears."Sara's dead," he stammered, explaining DNA results had confirmed it.

I bent over in my seat, unable to breathe and sobbing loudly, not caring what the passengers around me thought.

Stuck in our seats until the plane came to a stop, Mark, Harrison and I just wept.

In London, police gave us more information about Sara's death.

"She was one of the first to be killed in the attack," he explained.

They showed us where she'd died, on some steps in Borough High Street.

She'd been stabbed in the back of her neck and never saw it coming.

I was furious.

Sara had such a beautiful, gentle soul.

How could someone murder her so brutally?

Over the next week, we kept busy dealing with police and inquests.

Four days later, we could see Sara's body.

Sara with a friend when she first arrived in London.
Sara with a friend when she first arrived in London.

I had to know without a doubt, that it was really my baby girl.

When the coroner pulled the curtain aside, I gasped.

Her skin was pale and it looked like she'd been crying but with the same rings and three earrings, there was no doubt it was my precious daughter.

Seeing her one last time somehow gave me closure.

A thousand people attended her funeral back home and millions of flowers had been laid at the spot where she died.

I felt like the whole world was feeling our heartache.

It was comforting to know we weren't alone.

Sara was one of eight people killed that night, with 48 more injured.

Overwhelmed with the tragedy, I wanted to take action.

"We've got to turn this negative into a positive," I said to Mark.

Sara as a child.
Sara as a child.

We decided to open a traumatic grief healing centre.

Sara's death had taught us that everyone grieves differently and deserves the chance to heal.

Now, a year later, our centre, called Sarz Sanctuary, is a registered charity.

It's completely self-funded and we've had so much support, we're hoping to open the centre next year.

We even did a 500km bike riding fundraiser, travelling from the steps of Southwark Cathedral, where Sara was killed, all the way to the Eiffel Tower, where we'd planned to meet her.

I knew she'd be so proud of us.

It's taken me a long time to accept that I'll never speak to my darling girl again.

I still struggle to cope with the sadness.

But I'm using my pain to help others, as well as myself.

Sara is everything to me and she'll never be forgotten.

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