In the aftermath of the jocular battle of the river Thames, Jo Cox tweeted a picture of her family in a dinghy flying the “in” flag for Europe.
“My hubby @MrBrendanCox & children taking part in the battle of the #Thames - because we’re #StrongerIn #Remain.”
It was a happy photograph, a snapshot of a moment in an at times heated, but thoroughly English, debate on the EU. Less than 24 hours later, the MP, a former aid worker, politician and mother of two small children, was dead and everything had changed..
As details of the attack on the MP filtered through the news wires, through social media and on television, the extreme violence and sustained nature of the assault became clear.
It was shortly before 12.53pm on Thursday. Inside the one storey red-brick library in Market Street in Birstall, West Yorkshire, Cox had been listening to her constituents who had voted her into parliament only a year ago.
She emerged, flanked by two personal assistants, to head to a meeting for the EU remain campaign. It was a busy day in her constituency. At the same time, customers clutching their lunch came out of Sandwich & Co and the sound of popping, like a balloon bursting, caused many to turn their heads.
In fractured, at times conflicting, accounts, people near enough to see and hear the events unfold, described how the assailant had been outside the library and confronted Cox as she walked out.
At least two witnesses, Clarke Rothwell, and Terry Flynn-Edwards, said the man, named locally as Thomas Mair, appeared to deliberately target the MP.
“There was a man stood there, in his 50s with a white baseball cap on and grey jacket with a gun, an old-fashioned looking gun in his hands. He shot this lady and then shot her again,” said Rothwell.
“He lent down. Someone was wrestling with him and he was wielding a knife, like a hunting knife ... He lunged forward, stabbing her straight in the stomach and that’s when he tried to reload his gun. She was shot, three times she was shot. The initial time when she dropped to the floor and then two more times. He leant over and pointed the gun … he shot her ... in the meantime he was just stabbing her with his knife.”
At some point, a 77-year-old man tried to intervene and wrestle the assailant to the ground, but he was also attacked and injured.
“He stabbed her first and this guy tried to stop him, and then he shot her,” said Flynn-Edwards.
Sam Watson said the street descended into complete chaos. People started screaming, while others ran towards where the MP lay. “She was on the floor and people were surrounding her, people were coming out of the shops, from around, from the library.”
Graeme Howard, 38, was among at least two witnesses who stated that Mair was shouting “Britain first” as he carried out the attack. The police later confirmed they were investigating the motive. The suspect’s links to rightwing groups is known to be a part of the investigation.
In the following seconds, passersby stopped to focus on the commotion, some began to cry out, others got out mobile phones to film what was going on until the police arrived and asked them to stop.
“All of a sudden, I heard people screaming and shouting,” said Hicham Ben Abdallah, who runs the Azzurro restaurant. “I went outside and I saw this guy kicking something in between two cars. There was another man trying to restrain him and he was screaming and stabbed him.” .”
Cox was lying in the street between parked cars in a pool of blood as two women from a nearby cafe ran out clutching towels to the sound of sirens from the emergency services.
“Police started to arrive,” said Watson. “And then more and more police came and more and more people were surrounding where it happened.”
Mair was seen by many walking slowly away past the library. “No one approached him,” said Watson. “Everyone just let him go and ran towards people over there.”
Two unarmed uniformed officers pursued Mair as he left the area, wrestling him to the ground.
“There was loads of screaming and shouting and the police officers showed up,” said Howard. “He was shouting ‘Britain first’ when he was doing it and being arrested.”
Over nearly an hour, paramedics and a doctor tended to the MP, who at one point was seen to be conscious and propping herself up on an elbow. But at 1.48pm she was pronounced dead.
Dee Collins, the temporary chief constable of West Yorkshire police, said the assailant was detained by local uniformed officers shortly after the attack. Weapons, including a firearm, were recovered, she said.
A 15-minute walk away from Market Street, police and forensic teams began to take apart Mair’s house in Low Wood Lane as police mounted a massive investigation into the first murder of a British politician in office since the assassination of Ian Gow by the IRA in 1990.
In Market Street, police cordons remained long into the afternoon. Those who had witnessed Cox’s killing began the detailed retelling of their accounts to investigating police.
“This is a very significant investigation with a large number of witnesses that are being spoken to by police,” said Collins. “There is a large and significant crime scene and there is a large police presence in the area.”
By the evening, floral tributes were being laid at the cordon outside the library and small groups of the MPs’ constituents were gathering in silence, taking in what had happened.
One note read: “On behalf of our village I would like to express our deep sadness and disbelief that something like this should happen. You were such a lovely lady and will be greatly missed. Karen and Janice-Birstall.”
On another tribute, there was written in large green letters: “Why? You lived for others and you will not die in vain. Our hearts are with you B, C and L. Abbey USU.” Another bouquet, from fellow MP Mary Creagh, read: “To our dear Jo. Snatched so cruelly from us. Loved and remembered always.”
As the police did their work, politicians from across the political divide expressed their horror. Labour’s former deputy leader Harriet Harman said: “Jo’s death is an absolute tragedy. She was dynamic and fearless. Jo’s politics were always about bringing people together and never about creating divisions.
“Her children will now have to grow up without their mother, but we will make sure that they know what an amazing, progressive and principled politician their mother was and how much we admired her.”
Ukip’s leader, Nigel Farage, said: “Deeply saddened to hear that Jo Cox has died. Sincerest condolences to her family.”
The employment minister, Priti Patel, said: “The saddest news about Jo. A dedicated public servant. A lovely lady, a mother & a wife.”
It was as wife and mother that Cox had been due to spend this weekend, before the final days of campaigning with colleagues to promote the remain in Europe campaign. She and her husband, Brendan, had been due to host a party in Wales, a few days before her 42nd birthday next week.
Instead, her husband posted a picture of his wife, the campaigner, politician and mother, on Twitter shortly before West Yorkshire police announced publicly at 5.15pm that she had died in the attack.
In his moving tribute, he made a plea for unity. “She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now. One that our precious children are bathed in love, and two, that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her.”
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