A former Diss High School student has recalled his terrifying ordeal after being caught up in last week’s terrorist attack in Barcelona.
Alex Lillie, of Blo’ Norton, took refuge in a restaurant for six hours just yards away from the scene where a terrorist mowed down pedestrians in a van at high speed in Las Ramblas.
Thirteen people were killed and more than 100 were injured in the attack.
It was the final day of a two-week trip planned by Mr Lillie, who admitted not sleeping after finally returning to his hostel.
“I know it is really cliche to say, but, when I closed my eyes, all I could see was people on the pavement,” he told the Diss Express. “It was horrible.”
Mr Lillie, who graduated from the University of Nottingham earlier this summer with a degree in politics and international relations, had been staying at a hostel in the Girona area.
It was like a movie scene or a horrible dream
Having woken up late on Thursday, he took the Metro to the markets in Las Ramblas at about 4pm.
But when he arrived, he immediately knew something was wrong.
“There was a group of people at the exit to the Metro who were shouting and running past me,” he explained.
“The screaming got louder and louder and I had no idea what was going on. I started following the crowds. I did not know what I was running from or for.”
Once above ground, Mr Lillie attempted to seek refuge in a pharmacy, but was refused – eventually hiding in a tapas restaurant, called Cuines.
The curtains were drawn and the shutters closed at the front of the building.
He said there was confusion as the screams became deafening, with people running in every direction.
Mr Lillie spent six hours in the restaurant, just yards from the scene of the atrocity, where he was able to let his family know what had happened.
“Even though I was not showing it, I was panicking on the inside,” he said.
“I felt a bit of everything, really. We did not know if we were going to get out to safety for the first hour or so.”
Initial rumours were that someone on a motorbike had opened fire on people in the street and, with the news reports on the TV in Spanish, it was not until Mr Lillie could connect to the Wifi at the restaurant that he realised the full horror of what was occurring.
But he said a conversation with two Polish sisters, Aleksandra and Elżbieta, who were both coming to the end of their training to become doctors – who he recognised from his Metro journey and who spoke English – helped to comfort him during the incident.
“We just spoke about our lives back home and what we were up to and how long we had been travelling for,” he said. “It was nice, and it took our minds off things.
“It was like a movie scene or a horrible dream – but that humanised everything.”
Knocking could be heard on the shutters as night fell. Not knowing who it was, the owner instructed everyone to hide downstairs.
It turned out to be two off-duty police officers, who were checking buildings throughout the boulevard.
They were subsequently led through Las Ramblas – where he said hundreds of armed officers and members of forensic teams had descended on the scene.
“We had to walk through Las Ramblas, so we could see the damage that was done,” he said.
“We could see hats and bags and some wallets, too. We could see bodies on the floor, with foil covering them – it was pretty graphic.”
Mr Lillie, who said all he could see was bodies when he closed his eyes that night, returned home the following day.
He said he breathed a sigh of relief when he heard his friends in Barcelona were unhurt.
“I still think about what happened but I am much better about it now,” he added.
“I know stuff like this has happened, and stuff like this will happen again, but it should not stop me and it should not stop anyone else enjoying their holidays.
“It was very important and nice to see people coming together, such as the restaurant owner who let us in, provided us food and water and comforted us.
“Life is precious, but it is also too short to stay at home worrying where the next terrorist attack will be.”