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Wednesday 23 January 2019

Terror attack survivor recalls day 'sunbeds turned to deathbeds'

The Hegarty family survived the hotel massacre in Tunisia but the atrocity left them with scars, writes Alan O'Keeffe

SURVIVORS: Ray and Pam Hegarty, of Dublin, spoke about the Tunisian hotel terror attack. Photo: Gerry Mooney
SURVIVORS: Ray and Pam Hegarty, of Dublin, spoke about the Tunisian hotel terror attack. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Alan O'Keeffe

Any family could fall victim to a terrorist attack like the horror that hit Irish families engulfed in the Imperial Marhaba Hotel in Tunisia.

The Hegarty family from Dublin escaped with their lives after a terrifying ordeal during the 2015 attack.

"We had only wanted to live," said Ray Hegarty (50), who desperately helped his wife Pam barricade their family into their hotel room using bed bases and mattresses amid the sound of shooting and explosions.

A coroner's jury in Dublin last Wednesday heard details of the June 2015 hotel massacre in Sousse.

A lone Isil gunman shot dead Athlone couple Martina and Laurence Hayes and County Meath nurse Lorna Carty during the massacre that claimed 38 lives. Some were killed as they lay on beachside sunbeds. Many escaped with their lives but bear the psychological scars.

Ray and Pam Hegarty, from Rialto, spoke to this newspaper after the inquest. Ray is a photographer in Dublin and Pam is a nurse in St James's Hospital. When the shooting started, they were with their daughters Emma and Chloe, then aged 20 and 16, in the outdoor pool.

They scrambled out and people were screaming. Emma slipped on wet steps and her father helped her to her feet. Ray also helped an elderly woman up steps. He later discovered that three people died on those steps.

Ray heard the "whizz of bullets" and explosions as the gunman hurled grenades.Crowds packed the staircase in the hotel but the Hegarty family made it to their third-floor bedroom.

Once inside, they barricaded the doors and lay on the floor. Ray crawled to a window and saw a body in front of the hotel. He wanted to appear calm and not let his family see he was hyperventilating. As they cowered in their room, they switched on the television, muting the volume, and watched a Sky News report of their hotel under attack.

Pam (50) said "I'm a practical person. I was thinking about the girls and whether we should hide them in the wardrobes. Or tie sheets together and get them over the balcony and drop down."

Ray was worried about defending his family. "We didn't know if it was one gunman or a whole army," he said.

Eventually, an armed SWAT team led them to safety after the terrorist was shot dead. Downstairs, Pam and Ray met Meath farmer Declan Carty whose wife lay dead on a sunbed outside.

In the months that followed, the Hegarty family struggled to get back to a normal life. Ray said: "I felt lucky to be alive but angry as well". On the flight home, Ray wrote a poem - A Paradise by Oceanside:

Pure white sand where parachutes glide

This beautiful place, filled with nature's grace

That day.

Unnatural sounds of violence filled the air

Hammer of bullet and bomb echoed everywhere

Love was sucked out, replaced by a harrowing hate

An invisible cloak of evil covered our fate.

"Run run run" run for your life and of those in your care

Our souls were scattered everywhere

That day our sunbeds turned into deathbeds….'

Sunday Independent

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