In the wake of Saturday’s deadly London Bridge attack, a photo of an unassuming man with a pint in his hand has come to represent British defiance, resilience, and its “keep calm and carry on” spirit.
As throngs of people hustled down a city street away from the mayhem, the man, in a red shirt and with an unruffled expression on his face, walked slowly, holding his beer, a moment also captured by television footage.
The photo was posted on Twitter by Howard Mannella with a caption that read: “People fleeing #LondonBridge but the bloke on the right isn’t spilling a drop. God Bless the Brits!” It has since gone viral.
For those in the Sacramento region, the photograph also hits close to home: The four young men directly behind the man with the pint are friends from Folsom who were on the London leg of a three-week European backpacking trip when the attack unfolded.
Spencer Gilbert, 19, River Allen, 20, Jordan Stephen, 20, and Starry Faircourt, 19, were staying at St. Christopher’s at the Inn on Borough High Street, a hostel not far from the London Bridge and the Borough Market where seven people were killed and 48 were wounded.
The friends, three of whom attend Folsom Lake College, were in the pub on the first floor of the hostel discussing their evening plans when security guards began patting down people “with no explanation,” Gilbert said.
Unsure what was happening, the men decided to return to their room. Soon afterward, a hostel employee came up and told them to evacuate. They grabbed their passports, phones and other essentials, but left behind their backpacks. They were told by police on the street to “get as far away from London as we feasibly can,” Gilbert said.
“At that point, we figured it must have been something pretty big,” he said, adding they thought it was a bomb.
In the street, some people were running, some were casually walking away and some were even walking toward the scene, he said. But the four friends took what the officer said to heart and decided to run. In the photo, they are captured in mid-stride, running four abreast.
Gilbert said they traveled on foot for about two hours, feeling “a sense of urgency, not panic,” and ended up in the Greenwich borough of London, about 8 miles from the hostel, where they stayed at a Doubletree hotel. They didn’t find out until later what had happened, he said.
By Sunday, they were in a second St. Christopher’s hostel on Borough Street, where many people displaced from the original hostel were staying. The normally upbeat pub they visited Sunday was somber, they said.
“Feeling drained in every sense of the word – physically, emotionally,” Stephen said.
“At this point, I just feel thankful,” Gilbert said.
“I’m feeling grateful but extremely emotional,” Jordan Stephen’s mother, Dena Stephen, said, her voice wavering with emotion. “I can’t believe they were a part of something like this.”
Jordan Stephen had visited a doctor in London for an ear ailment before the attack, and Dena Stephen said she thought it would be the “worst disaster of the trip.” Saturday’s events proved otherwise. “Part of me wants them to come back but you can’t live in fear,” she said.
When asked about being in a photo that is spreading across the internet and striking a resilient chord, Jordan Stephen said he and his friends had wondered “if somebody’s going to take a picture of us. ... And there you go.”
The assault unfolded over a few terrifying minutes late Saturday, beginning with a rented van veering off the road and barreling into pedestrians on busy London Bridge. Three men then got out of the vehicle with large knives and attacked people at bars and restaurants in nearby Borough Market until they were shot dead by police. A dozen people were arrested Sunday as part of the terrorism investigation. The incident was the third major attack in Britain over the past three months.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.