'I saw it on tv and my heart stopped - I knew my son Lee was in that area'
THE father of Lee Rigby, the soldier killed in a knife and machete attack in London, has today paid an emotional tribute to him.
Mr Rigby's wife, Rebecca, and stepfather Ian Rigby spoke of their pride for him as they fought back tears and spoke on behalf of the 25-year-old's whole family, at a press conference at the Regimental HQ of his unit, the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers at Bury in Greater Manchester.
Mr Rigby said he first learnt about the incident from television, and recalled calling his step-son immediately.
"Really as soon as it came on the news on television, obviously we didn't know it was Lee but your heart skips a beat when you see something like that on TV, you know your son is in that area," he said.
"As soon as it was on the telly we were attempting to get hold of Lee, obviously we couldn't and it was the middle of the night probably when we got confirmed to us it was Lee."
Drummer Rigby, who was hacked to death in broad daylight on Wednesday afternoon in Woolwich, south-east London, grew up in Langley, in Middleton, Greater Manchester. He was a member of the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, had served in Afghanistan, and was attached to the Regimental Recruiting Team.
Two suspects were shot by police at the scene and remain under armed guard in hospital.
Rebecca Rigby, mother of their two-year-old son Jack, paid tribute to Mr Rigby saying: "I love Lee and always will. I am proud to be his wife and he was due to come up this weekend so we could continue our future together as a family."
Mrs Rigby, sobbing back tears, added: "He was a devoted father to our son Jack and we will both miss him terribly."
Asked about the shock of the attack being on British soil, she added: "You don't expect it to happen when he's in the UK. You think they're safe.
"His proudest moments were serving in London on the ceremonials with the drum corps."
Lee's stepfather Ian read out a statement on behalf of and prepared by the whole family: "What can we say about Lee, our hero, we are so so proud of Lee.
"When Lee was born the family adored him, he was a precious gift given to us.
"Lee had a fiery temper when he was younger, I used to sit on him to calm him down till he got too big at 15, then he used to sit on me.
"Lee's dream growing up was always to join the army which he succeeded in doing, he was dedicated and loved his job."
"Lee adored and cared a lot for his family, he was very much a family man, looking out for his wife, young son Jack, younger sisters, whom in turn they looked up to him, he always had a banter with them but would never ever let any harm come to them.
"He was over the moon being a dad and uncle, he adored them all."
Mr Rigby, 54, at times swallowing hard and breathing in to contain his emotions, continued: "Lee was a man who loved people.
He had many friends growing up in Middleton and on army duties all over the world.
"He believed life was for living and he will be sorely missed by all who knew him.
"Courtney and Amy his younger sisters wrote this for Lee: 'Rest in Peace Lee, we loved you so much, you didn't deserve this, you fought for your country and did it well.
"You will always be our hero we are just upset you left us so early. Love you Lee, goodnight.'"
The last text he sent to his mum read, 'Goodnight mum, I hope you had a fantastic day today because you are the most fantastic and one in a million mum that anyone could ever wish for. Thank you for supporting me all these years, you're not just my mum you're my best friend. So goodnight, love you loads."
Mr Rigby continued: "We would like to say goodnight Lee, rest in peace our fallen soldier, we love you loads and words cannot describe how loved and sadly missed you will be.
"We would like to thank everybody, the police and army for the amazing support we have received and for all the goodwill wishes we are receiving from all over the country in memory of Lee.
"Our hearts have been ripped apart from us, everyone is struggling to cope with this tragedy, so we would ask the press to respect our privacy to grieve our son's parting as we try to come to terms with this."
Mr Rigby then read out a poem, a tribute to Lee from an unknown poster on a Facebook page.
It read: "You fought bravely and with honour died,
"You leave your family so full of pride,
"Sleep well young soldier, your job is done,
"Your war is over, your battle won.
"Our family chain is broken and nothing is the same,
"But as God takes us one by one,
"Our chain will link again."
Mr Rigby was flanked by his step-son's wife, who at times covered her face with a handkerchief and to his right his own wife and Lee's mother, Lyn Rigby.
Lee's sister, Sara McClure, 24, sat holding her mother's hand and the family were also joined by Ray Dutton, another extended family member and Susan Metcalfe, Rebecca's mother.
Lee's other sisters Chelsea, Courtney, 11, and Amy, eight, were not present.
The family agreed to take a few questions, but did not want to be asked about politics, racism and the incident itself - still subject to an ongoing police investigation.
Asked how proud Lee was to serve Queen and country, Mr Rigby replied: "Extremely. He's always wanted to serve in the Army. He's been all over, Cyprus, Germany, Jordan."
Asked how hard it was to take that Lee had been killed not in a war zone but on the streets of London, Mr Rigby said: "When in Afghanistan, you come to terms with it, you know it's dangerous, you don't expect something like that on your doorstep. It's very difficult."
Asked what the family will miss most about Lee, his wife said: "Everything."
Mr Rigby added: "Everything. His love for his family, his incredible sense of humour. He was a loving son and wonderful father.
"I just can't tell you how much..."
Drummer Rigby collected teddy bears for his son Jack and the family took one to the press conference, dressed by Lee in the infantry uniform and with the Fusiliers' trademark feathered 'hackle' on the cap.