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Families pay tribute to three men slain in English park

LONDON (AP) — The families of the three victims of a stabbing rampage in a English park paid tribute to their loved ones Tuesday, saying how their hearts have been broken at losing them in what is being treated as a terror attack.

Police named the dead as teacher James Furlong, 36; scientist David Wails, 49; and pharmaceutical worker Joseph Ritchie-Bennett, 39. The three friends were enjoying a warm Saturday evening when they were attacked at Forbury Gardens park in Reading, a town of 200,000 people some 40 miles (64 kilometers) west of London. A 25-year-old suspect is in custody but officials say the motive for the carnage is unclear.

Martin Cooper, the head of LGBT organization Reading Pride, sad the victims were “true gentlemen” and stalwart supporters of he community. In statements released by police, the men's families each offered a reckoning of their grief.

Wails' parents described him as a much-loved son, brother and uncle who never hurt anyone in his life. “We are broken-hearted at losing him and in such a terrible way,’’ they said. “We will treasure our wonderful memories of him and he will always be with us in our hearts."

Furlong's parents said “James was a wonderful man. He was beautiful, intelligent, honest and fun.” “He was the best son, brother, uncle and partner you could wish for. We are thankful for the memories he gave us all," they said. We will never forget him and he will live in our hearts forever.”

The tributes came just a day after people in Reading gathered for a moment of silence. More than 100 students lit candles and laid flowers in memory of Furlong, a history teacher in the nearby town of Wokingham

The family of Ritchie-Bennett, who was originally from Philadelphia, also expressed their sadness. “I was absolutely blessed and proud to be Joe’s father for 39 years and we are heartbroken by what has happened,” his father said.

Lifelong friend Danielle Gayda said Ritchie-Bennett lit up any room he entered and was “unapologetically himself.” “He came in the room and everybody was like, ‘Oh, it’s Joe Ritchie. Joe Ritchie’s here.' Everybody was always excited to see him,” said Gayda, who grew up with him in Philadelphia.

She said Ritchie-Bennett came from a family of city police officers, but followed his own path, first to Canada, where he studied for a time, and later to England, where he married Ian Bennett of Reading in about 2006.

His husband died of cancer in 2014, but Ritchie-Bennett stayed in Reading and remained close to his in-laws there. “Joe was with him through everything,” Gayda said. “We all thought that Ian was taken from us much too soon. They had a lot left to their story. And now with Joe being gone … they’re together again, but we’re just very sad that both of them are not here with us.”

Police have not identified the suspect, but Britain’s national news agency, Press Association, and other media outlets named the alleged attacker as Khairi Saadallah, a Libyan asylum-seeker living in Reading.

Three other people were wounded in the attack. They have all been released from hospitals.

Associated Press Writer Maryclaire Dale in Philadelphia contributed to this story.

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