Monday, 2 March 2009

My Autistic Son - Part 6 - major trauma

In case you missed some or all of them, here are the links to the previous parts of this story -

Part 1 Part2 Part3 Part4 Part5

Colm's 13th birthday party at McDonalds, Lisburn.

Colm is at the back, smiling.

Spring 1994.

This is the BBC Northern Ireland news at 12 o'clock. A suspect car bomb has been discovered in Lisburn town centre. Police and an Army bomb disposal team are at the scene. The town centre and surrounding area has been sealed off to traffic and the Police are advising the public to avoid the area until the all-clear is given...”

I heard this news bulletin on the car radio as I was driving to a business meeting. It sent a paroxysm of fear down my spine. Colm's school was right beside Lisburn town centre!

I rang the school on my car phone. There was no answer. I tried again. And again and again. Still no answer. I had to fight hard to stop panic taking over. Why didn't they answer? I rang the Police - no reports of any major disasters in the area, but it was "a fluid situation".

I cancelled my meeting and went straight home. Irrational fears invaded my consciousness. Unlikely violent scenarios played out in my imagination. I had to wait three long, anxious hours to learn that the all-clear had been given. A bomb had exploded, but there were no serious injuries. One hour later, Colm arrived home via the school minibus, instead of his normal taxi. Taxi services had been disrupted by the bomb.

Then I heard the full story -

There had been a phone call from the Police to the school. A suspected car bomb had been found nearby. Move everyone to the safest part of the building, they demanded. There was the risk of the bomb exploding at any time and it would be too risky to try to evacuate the area. The staff and pupils at the school moved to a part of the building considered the safest – i.e. it had a good solid roof and no windows or doors nearby. But no phone! When the massive car bomb exploded some time later, the whole building shook. After 10 minutes or so of quietness, they all returned cautiously to the main building. Apart from a few shattered windows in adjacent rooms, not much damage was done to the school. No one had been injured.

It was a very traumatic experience for Colm. I try to imagine what it must have been like for him, confined with the staff and other pupils in a small space for over two hours with no explanation given (to avoid worrying the pupils). Although the staff tried to amuse the pupils during this time, there was obviously a tense atmosphere. Then suddenly, and without warning for Colm (and the other pupils), there was a deafening “BANG!”, the entire building shook, followed immediately by the “WHOOSH!” of the blast and then the tinkle of broken glass falling... Some of the pupils began to scream. Others cried. No one was allowed to move for a while in case there was another blast, or the broken glass hadn't stopped falling. All of this must have been incredibly frightening for a 13 year old boy with limited understanding.

Colm's last photo at Parkview school, autumn 1994. Colm is on the extreme left.

It's now 15 years later, and Colm still mentions that bomb from time to time.

This incident was the catalyst which set in motion a family move away from the troubled land of my birth. It wasn't the only reason. I had problems coping with living in such a divided society where not supporting one of the two warring tribes led to mistrust by both: I had received death threats for refusing to support one or other of them: I had been asked for – and refused to pay - protection money: my father, a relatively recent widower, had never quite shaken off his PTSD brought about his horrific terrorist kidnapping some years earlier: and my marriage was disintegrating. A new start in a new place held out the hope of a new, less stressful life for us all.

After much research, we decided to move to the south west of England. We sold everything (for less than it was worth, because we were in a hurry to move) and had emigrated before the year ended.

After that, things began to improve for Colm.

Actually, things began to improve for us all. Our lives had been changed forever.

Now read part 7


Crystal Jigsaw said...

It beggars belief what enjoyment these bastards got out of exploding bombs near schools. Most children in that situation would have been confused, frightened and probably very angry.

CJ xx

Nechtan said...

For most of us the troubles were something lived out on TV where you are seperated emotionally. To live amid it all must have taken its toll. I won't pretend to imagine how hard it must have been on a daily basis where what you went through with the car bomb was forever on the agenda.

So glad though that you got you and your family out of it. And it has proved to be the best move for all concerened. I'm sure you must still have alot of family there so that in itself must still be hard.

Thanks again for sharing what must have been a very traumatic time in your life.

All the best


WesleyG said...

What a tough thing to go through at such a young age, but it goes to show you how strong he really is.

Robert said...

Hi CJ - Being fanatical is always dangerous to others! Damage to all innocent persons was just considered collateral damage to these nuts.

Nechtan - when you live in the middle of a conflict zone, it becomes "normality" and thus not traumatic. Weird, isn't it? I've only got one daughter and one very old aunt left in N Ireland; so that's not too bad.

WesleyG - It's the sort of thing that no-one should have to go through at any age...but it's an imperfect world, isn't it?

alice said...

i remember in london when we were kids we would have bombs scares, not on the scale of northern ireland. after a while though like you said you would be used to the it. these people dont know how much damage they do.

maz said...

My God Robert, it makes it all so real seing it through your eyes.
Truely terrifying for all involved.

maz x

claire p said...

Wow and I think I've been through a lot!

I just wanted to welcome you to cornish jottings. I saw you on my followers list today.

We moved to the west country (Cornwall in our case) 15 years ago, best thing we ever did.

Robert said...

alice - Either they DID know how much damage they were doing and that's what they were trying to achieve or they didn't care. Either way, they're callous.

maz - We coped with what was going on on a daily basis, but there was always that hidden worry - that one of the family was involved in some atrocity or other... That was the scary part.

Hi Claire - I had already read loads of your very enjoyable blog before subscribing. thanks for dropping in!