Being close to the scene of a terrorist attack is different than seeing it unfold on the screen.
For Sarah Beth Keeley, who attended Mount Boucherie Secondary in West Kelowna, the situation was all too real when a suicide bomber detonated an explosive at the end of an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester Arena, Monday night.
A little more than 200 yards away, Keeley and her Canadian boyfriend Gavin Sorochan were performing as part of a musical tour in the U.K., promoting their new single in an entertainment venue down the street, called Gullivers.
The bombing happened while Keeley was performing. They first thought a transformer had blown in the arena. Staff at the Gullivers venue locked the doors.
“We didn’t actually hear anything at that point,” she said, adding there was music and performances underway. Shortly thereafter, the venue went on lockdown.
Keeley and her boyfriend didn’t find out it was a suicide bombing as no one could go anywhere to get details.
“Once we learned it was a bombing we had to stay in there,” she said.
After an hour they were let outside into the streets which Keeley described as a “ghost town” aside from emergency personnel.
“There were police everywhere and you could hear sirens continuously and a couple of helicopters were circling.”
She walked to her hotel which was at the corner of the street by a barricade.
“You feel strange, you feel confused,” she said. “Everything had been shut down everywhere.”
They arrived at their hotel after learning it was a bombing at the concert. Twenty-two people lost their lives.
“There was a young couple, there were young girls with their heads down in their phones probably texting their parents and there was a lady with her face in her hands crying because she couldn’t find her daughter and you’re in the middle of this freaking out,” she said.
The situation was foreign to her, after only seeing terrorist attacks in the media from afar. The couple was worried there would be more attacks.
“Our biggest concern wasn’t really the bombing… what we were concerned about was this would be like another Paris ordeal where the gunman might’ve been mobile,” said Sorochan, as they had yet to learn it was a suicide bombing.
They stayed in Manchester for two more nights and cancelled their last show out of respect for the victims of the attack.
The pair said they haven’t had a chance to properly reflect on the incident and how they may view it could change, once they are back in Canada.
“When you’re separated from an event you can sort of take a look at it from a third person,” said Sorochan. “I know how we saw 9/11 and there was an immediate ‘Oh my god.’ When you’re in something, you have to react. Now if we come back to Canada, we may sit and say ‘I don’t know if I want to venture out again,’” he said.
“I’ve thought about my flight home out of London,” added Keeley. “I feel less relaxed going back to the airport than coming here.”
Keeley’s father and stepmother Mike and Jo Bullock live in West Kelowna and they said they weren’t aware of the situation in Manchester until after they received a text from Keeley saying she was OK.
“Immediately I thought something has happened,” said father Mike Bullock. “I’m very grateful for her doing that.”
Moving forward, Bullock said there is concern for his daughter’s safety.
“We haven’t really worried a lot about terrorism because of where she was traveling to in the past. Going forward it’s a bit of an issue for sure,” he said.