WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND — At 3:10 P.M. on July 8, 1996, paranoid schizophrenic Horrett Irving Campbell, 32, jumped the fence of St. Luke’s Church of England Infants School. Once on the other side, Campbell whipped out a machete and started slashing.
Students and parents had gathered there for a “teddy bear picnic” to introduce that fall’s incoming pre-kindergarten students to the school.
Campbell, who lived in the area, long believed the children at St. Luke’s “represented the devil” and were taunting him. Specifically upon the occasion of the picnic, Campbell, who is Black, said he heard the toddlers hurl racial epithets at him. Many of the students in question were also Black and members of other minority groups.
In response to what psychiatrists deemed this “auditory hallucination,” Campbell swung his machete at all in his reach, chopping, slashing, and severely injuring three children and four adult females, including three moms hovering over their kids.
School nurse Lisa Potts, 21, endured the worst wounding. Campbell stabbed and sliced all over her body as she threw herself in front of the 18 children on hand, even hiding several under her skirt during the assault. Potts’s savagely hacked left arm barely remained attached to her body in the process.Afterward, Potts told the press:
“There was a lot of screaming, and a man came lunging towards me, but he was laughing. I grabbed a child under each arm and ran back towards the nursery, but he pulled me back and hit me on the back of the head.”
The three maimed children also suffered horribly. Four-year-olds Rhena Chopra and Francesca Quintyne took deep cuts in the face; Francesca had to have her severed ear reattached. Three-year-old Ahmed Pervez was rushed into emergency surgery to repair extreme head and leg wounds.
The madness endured for eight minutes. Parents eventually distracted Potts and chased him off the school grounds into Viller Flats, the housing area where he resided. Two hours later, police took a wrong suspect into custody and let him go. The following day, after a nonstop search, officers arrested Horrett Campbell.
Upon being arrested, Campbell told police that he only ever intended to inflict injuries and not to kill, and that he acted “to get even.” Campbell also stated that he believed that the attack would free him from a ghost that had haunted him for years.
When asked if he felt remorse, Campbell said:
“What I did was good. I felt sorry for myself. I didn’t really feel sorry for them, no.”
The assailant further explained that he thought a little girl on the other side of the fence had given him the go-head, claiming she said, “If he does it, then he does it.” Campbell said, “I took it to mean she knew why I was there. I thought it was going to look funny if I didn’t go ahead and do what I had come to do.”
Further investigations revealed that Campbell had constructed two homemade flamethrowers, and idolized Thomas Hamilton, a mass murderer who in March 1996 fatally shot 17 children and one teacher at a school in Dunblane, Scotland.
On December 9, a jury found Campbell guilty of seven counts of attempted murder and other crimes related to the incident. The judge sentenced him to life in prison.
England later honored Nurse Lisa Potts with a prestigious George Medal for Bravery. She spent multiple years undergoing painful operations and both physical and psychological therapy.
On the 20th anniversary of the machete attack in 2016, Potts told the BBC:
“I’ve forgiven [Campbell] now for what he did. I had to move on. I never had any hate, even in my darkest moments, when I had to relearn everything (because of my injuries). I wasn’t angry at him… As time went on, I felt sorry for him. I’ve learned a lot about mental health over the years and I feel sad that he went unnoticed in the community and didn’t get help or treatment.”
Potts has remained in close contact with many of the children she protected, in particular Francesca Quintyne. At present, Potts works as a counselor, specializing in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders.
Main photo: Horrett Irving Campbell [West Midlands Police]