Two young university students and a man in his 50s were stabbed to death at dawn series of attacks in Nottingham on Tuesday.
Barnaby Webber, 19, and a friend, known locally as Grace Kumar, were returning to their student accommodation. after a prom night when they were killed on Ilkeston Road, in an apparently random attack, shortly after 4am.
About an hour later, a man driving to work on Magdala Road two miles away was also attacked and stabbed to death, his body lying in the street.
Nottinghamshire Police said the suspect stole the victim’s van and drove into the city centre, where he struck three pedestrians who were standing at a bus stop on Milton Street, leaving one in critical condition.
A 31 year old man He was arrested a short time later by Taser-armed police officers. The man was taken into custody, where he was being questioned on suspicion of three murders.
The sources said the suspect he was a West African migrant who had settled legally in the UK and was known to the police. It is not yet known what sparked the ruckus and sources said that while the suspect had no criminal record, he was known to police and he also had a history of mental health issues.
Detectives said they were working briskly to establish a motive for the attacks, but were keeping an open mind and had not ruled out terrorism.
Specialist officers are understood to have been examining electronic devices, including phones and computers, to see if they offered any clues as to what had led to the attacks. Police were also investigating the man’s background and associates.
The two 19-year-old victims were students at the University of Nottingham, where they had just completed their first-year studies and were preparing for the summer holidays.
Mr Webberwho grew up in Somerset, was a pupil at Taunton School where he was a talented cricketer and hockey player.
His devastated family was being supported by the police and comforted by relatives. Speaking outside her home, her grandparents said: “Barnaby’s parents are in pieces, as you can imagine, but they are with Nottinghamshire Police officers as we speak. We have been told not to comment until we know more.”
Mr Webber’s cricket club, Bishops Hull, paid tribute to his “dear friend and teammate”.
Ms Kumar, a talented college first-team hockey player, is believed to be from London and a former student of Bancroft Independent School.
“Barney was attacked in the early hours of this morning walking home with a friend after a night out and was killed,” they said in a statement.
“Playing over 30 games for the club, scoring 622 runs and taking 29 wickets, his memory will live on.”
In a statement, Shearer West, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nottingham, said: “All of us in Nottingham are deeply shocked and saddened by the death of two of our students following a major incident in Nottingham city centre.
“I know that our entire university community will join me in offering our deepest condolences to their family and close friends, as well as the other victims of the incident. Our thoughts are with all of them at this incredibly difficult time.
“The university is supporting students’ families and friends, as well as staff and students. Our security team is working closely with Nottinghamshire Police and authorities to support the ongoing investigation into the incident.”
The first attack is believed to have taken place just after 4am as students, celebrating the end of the summer term, were returning home from an event called Quids In at the Pryzm nightclub.
Mr Webber and Ms Kumar were walking along Ilkeston Road, an area popular with students, when the attacker approached them. Witnesses said there may have been a brief altercation before the suspect suddenly pulled out a knife and began stabbing the couple.
A witness, who looked out the window after hearing cries for help, said he saw a man dressed all in black, with his hood up, struggling with a couple.
He said: “I saw him stab the boy first and then the woman. They were repeated stabbings, four or five times. The boy collapsed in the middle of the road. The girl staggered towards a house and did not move. The next minute she had disappeared over the side of a house, and that’s where they found her.”
The assailant, who was wearing a backpack, was then described as calmly walking away from the scene.
His movements over the next hour are unclear, but around 5 am there was a second attack about two miles away on Magdala Road.
A shopkeeper, who was driving to work in a Vauxhall van, is believed to have been stopped and then attacked with a knife. His attacker dragged him out of the vehicle and left him lying on the pavement, who then drove off in the stolen van. Witnesses who found the man said he had lost a lot of blood, and paramedics struggled to no avail to revive him.
Just before 5:30 a.m., police spotted the stolen van downtown, but before they could challenge the suspect, he ran over a group of three people who were standing at a bus stop.
Speaking outside Nottinghamshire Police headquarters, Chief Constable Kate Meynell said: “Police were called to Ilkeston Road just after 4am after a member of the public reported that two 19-year-olds had been stabbed. and they did not respond.
“We received an additional call to another incident on Milton Street, where the driver of a stolen van had attempted to run over three people. As a result, one man is in hospital in critical condition, while two others are believed to have suffered minor injuries.
“The van then stopped on Maple Street where police officers tasered and arrested a man on suspicion of murder.
“A man in his 50s was also found dead of knife wounds on Magdala Road by a member of the public. At this time, we believe that the suspect stole this man’s vehicle and drove it to Milton Street, where he then led members of the public.
“We are still in the early stages of the investigation. I need to determine exactly what were the motives behind this attack.”
Meynell said police were not looking for anyone else in connection with the incident and assured people it was safe to return to the city center.
Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, also said the motive remained unclear, adding: “We need to give the police the time and space to carry out all their operational activity to determine the motive.
“It is right that Nottinghamshire Police are working with the Anti-Terror Police. But it’s also fair to say that any and all professionals on the front lines are keeping an open mind as to what the precise motive might have been.”
Throughout the day, the police carried out several raids on homes near the site of the first attacks.
Armed police, supported by counter-terrorism specialists, carried out searches at two properties on Ilkeston Road, believed to be related to the suspect. There were unconfirmed reports that he was a Muslim worshiping at an Islamic center near the scene.
A vigil at St Peter’s Church in central Nottingham was attended by hundreds of people who paid their respects to the dead and wounded.
During the service, which was attended mainly by students from the University of Nottingham and Nottingham Trent University, those present were invited to place flowers under the altar or light a candle.
Additional reporting by Charles Hymas, Joe Pinkstone, Catherine Lough, Michael Murphy, and Gabriella Swerling