Brave student returns to university after knife attack
December 9 2013
A brave student returned to university just weeks after being stabbed saving the life of a girl in a “terrifying” knife attack.
Sean Doyle was assaulted in the early hours of October 2, while walking along Crispin Lane, Wrexham.
The 20-year-old arrived in the town just hours earlier to start a degree in youth and community work, specialising in mental health and disabilities, at Glyndŵr University.
Sean, from Birkenhead, is recovering well but has sleepless nights and is experiencing flashbacks; physically he is still in pain and has no feeling in his left thigh.
A keen Taekwondo player, he is able to walk but unsure how his mobility will be affected in later life as the knife was plunged into his spine.
The attacker, 21-year-old Gary Douglas, from Llay, was charged with the attempted murder of Sean and the female victim, Toni Lloyd Roberts, but later died after being taken to hospital.
Another girl was also assaulted during the incident, which North Wales Police described as “random”.
Sean now wants to put the ordeal behind him to focus on achieving a degree.
Recalling that night, he said: “I only arrived in Wrexham a few hours earlier and went to the Centenary Club to try and meet some new people.
“Later that night I offered to walk this girl back to the train station as she was on her own. I remember walking and seeing this weird-looking guy behind us with his hood up.
“I told the girl not to worry, then looked back and saw him hunching over. Me being me I thought “I’ll watch myself here” because it didn’t look right.
“I put the girl in front of me to make sure she was safe and kept walking. When we got nearer the station at the top of Crispin Lane I thought we’d be ok and let my guard down and relaxed.
“The next minute I felt this sharp pinching pain in my back, I wondered what it was – I didn’t know I’d been stabbed until later.”
Sean explained how his martial arts background ultimately saved his life.
He said: “He stabbed me and then jumped on me and put the knife to my throat. I elbowed him, he fell back and once I got up he was stood telling the girl how he was going to take his own head off and “take yours for a trophy.”
“He pulled two knives out and went for the girl. I stepped in the way and told him to come for me instead, to finish the job off. I was in so much pain but I couldn’t see her get hurt.”
Sean added: “He was ranting and raving so I pushed her out of the way and confronted him. He went for me again, which is when I managed to turn him in the middle of the road.
“I backed off and thought if I ran he would come after me, which he did, so I ran towards the security office at Wrexham Village student accommodation.
“I don’t know how I did it but I managed to, and he chased me to the security unit. I tried to get him in but I couldn’t as I wasn’t in a fit state.”
With his tall and slender frame, Sean is not your average-looking tough guy and admits as much, but his actions on the night left fellow student and new best friend Eleanor Owen, from Dyffryn Ardudwy, near Barmouth, in little doubt of his bravery.
The 18-year-old, currently in the first year of a degree in business management, rushed to help Sean when she heard there had been an attack nearby.
“My mum is a nurse so I went to check it out and see if I could assist in any way,” she said.
“There was a lot of blood so I put pressure on the wound and tried to keep him calm, which wasn’t easy as he was worried about someone else getting hurt.
“I stayed with him at Wrexham Maelor Hospital all night, even though he told me to go. I wanted to make sure he was ok.”
Sean added: “I went to get up again but they wouldn’t let me. I don’t remember much else after that apart from being in hospital – it was all pretty terrifying.”
A former pupil at St John Plessington Catholic College, Wirral, he has sympathy for his attacker’s family and was sorry to hear that he had passed away.
“When he died I think people expected me to be happy or relieved but I felt sad for his family,” said Sean.
“Nobody deserves to die, there was obviously a problem somewhere else in his life because I’d never met him before. It wasn’t personal.”
He added: “One minute I was laughing and joking with my friends and the next I was wired up in hospital.
“I was unsure whether I’d be ok to walk but I’m stubborn, there was no way I was being rolled out in a wheelchair or with a stick.”
And leaving Wrexham was never in question. According to Sean he feels “calmer” in North Wales than he does back at home on Merseyside.
“I feel calm being here, calmer than I do being back in Birkenhead, perhaps it’s because I’m so close to where it happened,” said Sean.
“I still walk up and down that road all of the time, I can’t avoid it. I sometimes stop where it happened and think about it.
“I have nightmares about the attack and flashbacks. The other day I went for one of my friends because he was walking up behind me – I panicked.
“I suppose I will feel like this for a while but there was never any danger of me leaving university and going home.”
The experience could benefit him long-term as his ambition is to work with people who have been through a traumatic episode.
“I want to eventually help vulnerable young people out there who’ve experienced bad things in their life, like homelessness, drugs and alcohol,” said Sean.
“This experience will probably help with that because I’ve had to dig deep and draw on my strength to recover, and I’m lucky to have great family and friends, especially Eleanor. We met under the most traumatic circumstances but she’s stuck with me now… we’ll be friends for life.”
He added: “I’ve got family in Wrexham, I know the town and that I was just the wrong person walking along at the wrong time. Then again, perhaps I was the right person because I stepped in and was able to fight back when others might not have been able to.”
After all of this, he still doesn’t feel like a hero, or that he’s done anything particularly brave or out of the ordinary.
“I don’t feel like a hero at all, I can’t feel like a hero because he got to someone else as well as me,” said Sean.
“Then again, I’d feel more gutted if I’d walked down that road and done nothing to help.”
Simon Stewart, a senior lecturer in youth and community at Glyndŵr University, has little doubt that Sean is one of the most courageous people he has ever met.
He visited Sean several times in hospital and at home and was pleased when he returned to his studies.
“It has been heart-warming to welcome Sean back,” said Simon.
“I went to his home to speak to him about his ability and willingness to continue at university and was struck by the mature attitude he was taking in dealing with the nature of his condition.
“His outlook was highly optimistic and Sean was determined to utilise his experience in his future career of youth work.”
Sean is thankful to the university, especially the Students’ Guild, and now looks forward to the rest of his time at Glyndŵr.
“I wanted to speak out and thank Eleanor and the other people at the university who’ve helped me over the past couple of months, they’ve all been awesome,” he said.
“This incident happened the day I arrived and was traumatic and tragic, but from that I’ve made friends that will be with me for the rest of my life.”