The brother of one of the Reading terror attack victims has said his “brilliant” sibling was planning to climb Mount Kilimanjaro for his 40th birthday, but had his hopes and dreams cut short for no reason.
US citizen Joseph Ritchie-Bennett, 39, affectionately known to his loved ones as Joe, was stabbed to death in a park by 26-year-old failed Libyan asylum seeker Khairi Saadallah on June 20 last year.
His friends, history teacher James Furlong, 36, and scientist Dr David Wails, 49, were also killed in the attack in Forbury Gardens as the victims were enjoying a summer evening after the first lockdown restrictions in England were relaxed.
Saadallah was handed a whole-life sentence after he pleaded guilty to three murders and three attempted murders.
Speaking to the PA news agency from Philadelphia ahead of what would have been Joe’s 40th birthday on January 22, Robert Ritchie said his brother was a “people magnet”, adding: “He could attract you with his smile from miles away.
“He had the most warm, loving and attractive smile. He was brilliant and handsome, and accepting of everyone.”
Mr Ritchie said his brother had exciting plans for his 40th – he planned to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, and travel to both Greece and Tanzania.
“This terrorist just decided he had the right to cut short all of Joe’s hopes and dreams, all of James’s hopes and dreams, all of David’s hopes and dreams, and the hopes and dreams that the Ritchie family, the Bennett family, the Furlong family and the Wails family had for Joe, James and David,” he said.
Mr Ritchie, 44, said his brother had been “training really hard” for the climb up Kilimanjaro, and was happy to wait for the pandemic to pass so that he could embark on his adventures.
He reflected on chatting to Joe about his plans just a week before he was killed.
“What he said was ‘Oh it’s okay, this Covid-19 pandemic is not going to last forever. The restrictions, you know, this too shall pass, basically.
“The restrictions will one day be over and when they’re over…I’ve got my whole life ahead of me, you know, I’ll climb Mount Kilimanjaro next year, I’ll go to Greece the following year, I’ll go to Tanzania the year after that’,” Mr Ritchie recalled his brother saying.
He said Joe had a real love for travel and during that conversation the pair also discussed a family trip that they hoped would take place in 2023.
Mr Ritchie said the family are “heartbroken” about what happened and what Joe will miss out on.
“We feel as though Joe, James and David…they didn’t deserve to go out that way. They didn’t.
“They were all wonderful and lovely men,” he said.
Mr Ritchie said Joe and his friends had “so much time ahead of them”, adding: “They had half, if not more, of their lives still ahead of them, and it just got taken away for no reason whatsoever, none.”
He said the Ritchie, Bennett, Furlong and Wails families are “absolutely heartbroken”, adding: “I know that we will never truly get over the losses that we have all suffered.”
Mr Ritchie said he and his family loved Joe “so much”, adding: “We always will. That’ll never change. This terrorist cannot take that away from us.
“As hard as he tried, he cannot and he will not take away the American or the British spirit.”