The devastated family of the murdered soldier Lee Rigby told of their frantic attempts to contact the military drummer after seeing images of his killing on television.
During an emotional press conference, Mr Rigby’s stepfather Ian revealed he had watched the terror unfold on Wednesday on television news. The 54-year-old said that, after seeing the murder, he immediately attempted to contact his stepson, fearing the worst but having no idea that the 25-year-old soldier was the victim of the bloody attack.
“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,” Mr Rigby said.
“You know your son is in that area. 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’s family also paid a tearful tribute to the dead soldier, hailing him as a “hero”. Mr Rigby was flanked at the press conference by his stepson’s wife Rebecca, who at times covered her face with a handkerchief, and to his right his own wife and Drummer Rigby’s mother, Lyn. His sister, Sara McClure, 24, sat holding her mother’s hand and the family were also joined by Ray Dutton, 61, another extended family member and Susan Metcalfe, 60, Rebecca’s mother.
Drummer Rigby’s other sisters Chelsea, Courtney, 11, and Amy, eight, were not present. His estranged wife Rebecca, 30, mother of his two-year-old son Jack, fought back tears as she addressed the press conference at the Regimental HQ of his unit, the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers in Bury, Greater Manchester.
“I love Lee and always will,” she told those gathered. “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.”
She 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.”
Drummer Rigby, from Middleton, Greater Manchester, was hacked to death and beheaded in broad daylight by Islamist extremists in Woolwich, south-east London, on Wednesday. Two suspects, Michael Adebolajo, 28, and Michael Adebowale, 22, were shot by armed officers and remain in police custody.
Speaking of the Rigby family’s grief the soldier’s stepfather admitted they were still struggling to come to terms with tragedy, saying “our hearts have been ripped apart”.
Reading out a statement on behalf of and prepared by the whole family, Mr Rigby said: “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.”
Mr Rigby also told of the last communication Drummer Rigby had with his mother before his death.
He said: “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.’”
The soldier girlfriend of Lee Rigby was yesterday being flown back from Afghanistan, where she is serving in the conflict zone, after being told of his death.
Drummer Rigby married in 2007 but had separated from his wife and had started seeing a woman who is serving with the Royal Military Police.
Asked how proud Drummer Rigby 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.”
Commenting on how hard it was to take that he 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.”
Explaining what the family will miss most about him, 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.”