“There’s been a bomb”
Those were first words Sharon Hartley heard as her terrified daughter came out of an Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena.
Little did she know her 14-year-old daughter had narrowly escaped a suicide bomb blast which would kill 22 people - including two Lancashire girls.
“It’s started to really hit us just how lucky Ella was,” she said. “Watching the news and seeing the death toll rise has been heart-breaking.
“It feels like a dream and I’m just so happy they’re all safe.”
The Monday night concert was the first Ella and her three friends had been to without their parents and Sharon describes how their night of terror unfolded.
“We took the girls to the arena and we stayed in the city to have food before waiting for them to meet us later,” the Catterall mum said.
“Because this was the first time on their own, I’d checked to see what time it started and saw it finished at 10.30pm.
“We were waiting in the car when I got a call from Ella at 10.31pm and I thought ‘Great she must be on her way back to us’.
“I picked up the phone and she just said “there’s been a bomb”.
“It was horrific, we knew the girls were together but we didn’t know they were safe.
“We kept them on the phone and tried to direct them back to us.
“They’d been forced out of a different exit and into the streets with thousands of people but no-one knew what was going on.
“My last words to Ella at 7pm before she left us were have fun, stay safe and stay together.
“They held hands and kept running and running to us. When I saw them it was just utter relief and we just wanted to get them out of there.
“We had no idea what we were leaving behind.”
Police say the attack was carried out by a lone male suicide bomber who detonated a home-made bomb, dying at the scene.
The nail bomb was exploded in the arena foyer as fans left the building - killing 22 people including an eight-year-old girl.
A further 59 people, including 12 under the age of 16, were injured and taken to hospital.
More than 60 ambulances and 400 police officers attended.
The so-called Islamic State group has claimed responsibility, but this has not been verified.
A 23-year-old man was arrested in connection with the attack late on Tuesday morning.
The investigation is “complex and wide ranging”, police have said, and they have urged people not to speculate on the attacker’s identity.
It is the worst terror attack in the UK since 52 people were killed in the London bombings of July 2005.
Pop star Ariana Grande wrote on her Twitter account: “Broken. From the bottom of my heart, I am so, so sorry. I don’t have words.”
And Sharon says the utter horror of the incident only began to sink in when they arrived home.
“It’s only now we’re starting to realise just how lucky they all were,” she said.
“I woke up on the settee and just watched death roll go up.
“Hearing about all the others involved is just utterly heartbreaking.
“This is the worst thing we’ve have ever experienced and we’ve just been telling Ella how brave she’s been and how proud we are.
“She kept hold of everyone and they got to safety.”
Sharon says Ella and her two sons Nate and James haven’t been to school as they come to terms with the tragedy their sister was so nearly involved in.
“I don’t know what to tell them,” Sharon said.
“Ella has been getting lots of messages and phone calls but she’s doing good.
She’s been asking us why would someone would want to blow up children. We just don’t have an answer.
“It’s just wrong and horrendous.”