They never stood a chance, but Raymond Elliott, who tried to rescue people immediately after the Shankill bomb, said his mind would have been eased “if I had even saved one of them”.
The 70-year-old from the Highfield estate in Belfast – who received an award from the RUC for his actions on the day of the Shankill bomb – still attends counselling to help him cope with what he saw on October 23, 1993.
Shortly after 1pm an IRA bomb detonated in Frizzell’s fish shop on the Shankill Road, which had been packed with shoppers.
IRA man Thomas Begley had been carrying the device towards the refrigerated serving counter when it exploded prematurely, killing him and nine civilians.
On the day of the atrocity Mr Elliott, now a great-grandfather, had just seen his wife Doreen get on a bus on the Shankill Road.
“I ran back down again and everybody was running about crazy, crying and injured,” he said. “I helped get them onto the other side of the road and I got as much as I could to bandage them up from the chemists.
“Some of them got nappies and bandages out of the wee chemist. But some of them were beyond repair. I knew most of the people.”
Mr Elliott said when he got into what remained of Frizzell’s shop, “it was just a mess inside, a real, real mess. I don’t want to talk about what I found. No-one will ever know the extent of what I saw, not even my wife Doreen. It’ll die along with me.
“When one of the firemen came in he was physically sick. He had to go outside. There was no roof left, and the side walls were falling. We dug and we dug and we got four or five body bags filled. Some of the images still haunt me to today
“I helped with most of the bodies. The ones we thought we could save. And the others were taken away. After all these years I still attend a psychiatrist and a counsellor – I was there just last week.
“My mind asks me why I didn’t save this one or that one. Everybody tells me that I did what I could, but if I had saved one I think it wouldn’t have hit me so much. That stuck in my head for a long, long time.”
Although initially Mr Elliott did not think “anything was wrong with me”, a few weeks after the atrocity he started getting flashbacks. “They were so real,” he said. “I could see it all over again.” After a short stay in a psychiatric unit he was diagnosed with post traumatic stress and never worked again.
On Sunday a commemoration service is expected to be held in Ardoyne for Shankill bomber Thomas Begley.
And next week a series of events will be held to commemorate those murdered in the bombing.
On October 23 a service will be held in West Kirk Presbyterian Church at 12.30pm, during which flowers will be laid in memory of the victims.