Grieving Abu Dhabi residents hold vigil for murdered American teacher

Residents still in shock after the brutal, unprovoked stabbing on Monday in a ladies toilet near a Waitrose supermarket.

Ibolya Ryan and her twin 11-year-old sons. Courtesy Footprints Recruiting
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Mournful residents held a vigil last night for an American nursery teacher at the scene where she was brutally murdered.

The mother of 11-year-old twin boys and an older daughter was stabbed to death in the women’s toilets near the Waitrose supermarket in Boutik Mall, Reem Island, on Monday.

Police arrested an Emirati woman on Thursday suspected of killing Ibolya Ryan, 47, from Denver, Colorado, and also thwarted an attempt by the suspect to explode a nail bomb outside the home of an Egyptian-American doctor.

The Vancouver recruitment company that brought Ms Ryan to the public kindergarten where she worked in September last year also set up a web page to raise funds for the repatriation of her body and for her children’s education. The twins lived with her in Abu Dhabi, while the older daughter studies in Europe.

By late Friday night, Dh46,630 had already been raised.

Ms Ryan was born in Romania but was raised in Hungary before moving to the US.

American Chris Peterson, one of the victim’s neighbours, was one of the many people who turned out for the vigil. He said he had met her in passing.

“The kids aren’t here to be able to say goodbye,” he said, fighting tears. “I met her a few times in the elevator and I knew her kids from the building. She was always a smiley person and was so sweet. We talked a couple of times about our kids.”

He said the incident was so uncommon in the UAE. “It was random and unfortunate because the sense of security you have in the country, in general, is strong,” said Mr Peterson, who has two children and has lived in Abu Dhabi for five years.

“We’re all more nervous because of that. Murders happen on a daily basis in the States but because it’s so safe here, this seems to be so much harder and so much worse in a lot of ways.”

Richard Odum, a teacher with Abu Dhabi Education Council, said it was important to organise a remembrance vigil, which could help bring some closure.

“This is just a simple act and I would want people to do this for me if I were in that situation,” he said. “It’s people coming together in the same community.”

Diana Mark, from Russia, was emotional as people laid candles and flowers. “I was here that day when it happened and it’s overwhelming, I remember hearing people screaming,” she said.

“I have friends who live here. We’re all still shocked because nothing like this ever happens here.”

Peter Brown, from the UK, said people wanted to feel a sense of community and pay their respects. “Her body needs to be sent to her family and funds need to be raised for the children,” he said.

Ben Glickman, the chief executive of Footprints Recruiting, which has set up the fundraising web page, said: “Obviously this is a senseless tragedy that affects a lot of people.

“I met her once when I visited the UAE in December 2013. As a part of my visit I hosted an event for our teachers, which she attended. She was a warm and compassionate individual. She expressed to me how much she enjoyed the culture of the UAE and teaching Emirati children.

“She told me that she looked forward to learning Arabic and getting immersed in the culture and that this was a great experience for her twin boys.”

Colleen Sharp, from Ireland, said she wanted to lay flowers earlier but security guards prevented her from doing so.

“When I tried to lay flowers, the security guard wouldn’t let me and I was very emotional. I laid the flowers anyway and, when I went back down, they were gone, so it infuriated me.”

She was told that Khidmah, which manages the mall and the two adjoining residential towers, Sun and Sky, would not allow it.

Ms Sharp, who has lived in Sun Tower for almost two years, said she always felt so safe. “I even let my nine-year-old daughter go to Waitrose alone but I won’t anymore,” she said. “People need to acknowledge that such a terrible event has happened and we can all move on from it as a community.”

On Friday, Dr Amal Al Qubaisi, Adec’s director general, extended her condolences to the family of the victim.

“Our UAE society is known for tolerance and harmony among all nationalities,” she said. “We are a country that respects and encourages all cultures to live in peace and security.”

Adec said it lost a loyal teacher who would always be remembered for her passion and dedication by her colleagues. “This horrendous incident to our country will not affect the spirit of cooperation among all staff, UAE nationals and expatriates, who embody teamwork, loyalty and proactive cooperation among local, regional and international expertise to develop and enhance the level of our students.”

Dr Al Qubaisi added that Adec would provide the necessary support and care for the family members of the victim until they overcame “this critical period”.