Photos & Copyright: Netty Leistra
30 April 2009. Tomorrow it will be five years ago, but it is a day I will never forget as long as I live. It was probably the most horrible day of my life so far.
The day had started early for me. I had stayed the night at a friend, and took the bike to Hotel De Keizerskroon near Palace Het Loo in Apeldoorn. On the way I saw the first Queens Day visitors standing along the route in the park. The press gathered in the press centre, and from there we were taken to the park by bus. When the Dutch royal family finally arrived we were taken from one press stand to another, and another. The park was full of happy people, enjoying the nice weather, cheering the passing royals. Once more the press went into the bus and were driven to the crossing at the end of the Loolaan not far from the palace. The royal family drove in an open-top bus along the Loolaan to see a pageant of old cars, etc. They enjoyed it as much as all the people. We press wanted to have just one more look at the royal family, and the bus disappearing behind the “Naald” monument. We were all looking forward to the afternoon, when the younger generation was supposed to join the other family members on the steps of Palace Het Loo for once. Too young to remember Queen Juliana’s march-pasts, I was quite curious to see what was going to happen.
Around that moment I heard an engine of a car or something similar somewhere behind the public at the other end of the crossing, coming closer. I had a look, curious actually whether there would be a surprise from that side. Just wondering how they would open the road, as there were quite a few people standing there. One more look at the royal bus, and then back to the street where I heard the engine. It was around 11.50am, and suddenly the wonderful festive day turned into something horrible. All I can remember is a sudden noise of iron (fences) falling – and a car just coming from that direction with quite some speed. Just for a few seconds I thought I had ended up in a circus. It looked like dolls were coming from under the car and were flying through the air. I followed the car until it hit the “Naald”. Silence! I couldn’t hear anything for quite some time. What was going on? My first thought was the driver had become unwell. Who thinks about an attack on the royal family on a wonderful day like that? I was just staring at the crossing, not knowing what to do. Took my camera, took a few photos and put it back. It didn’t feel right! Several people received CPR, and one of them was lying hardly a meter away from me. After a while we were directed back to the Loolaan, but it can’t have taken that long as it felt like. I remembered I had promised a local radio station to call them, so I did and gave a short interview. It is not online anymore I think. When I heard it later on, I was surprised how calm I sounded, although I didn’t feel that way. I also managed to call my employer (who could hardly believe anything terrible had happened) and a friend of mine (who had been watching television), but didn’t manage to reach my parents. It turned out later they were in town at the time, and heard about the attack there and of course were terribly worried about me. I was sitting on the street for a while as I felt pretty shacky, and when I looked up suddenly all colleagues had gone. I was lucky I managed to make some calls at all, as soon afterwards the network was down. I knew I had to go back to Hotel De Keizerskroon and knew about how to get there, but of course the route I knew was blocked. Luckily I met a nice colleague who worked for a local radio station. He got some of my food, and we walked all the way back. He told me later I was looking terribly pale. He had been in the small bus with press that had driven behind the royal bus. After the attack they were directed out of the bus, so they could get away quicker in case that … The royal family had been driven to Palace Het Loo quite quickly. The people standing there hadn’t noticed what had happened several hundreds of meters away, and of course didn’t understand at first why the royals were looking so shocked and didn’t wave at all.
Somewhat of a chaos in De Keizerskroon. While the group I was in had been on the crossing, the other group had just entered the hall of the hotel – with TV-screen – when the attack took place. Even seeing it on television had been a terrible shock. Photographers were walking around, shouting and screaming of anger and shock, making telephone calls and trying to get their pictures out as soon as possible. More wanted than ever this time. The next day the attack would make the headlines in all Dutch newspapers and newspapers far outside the country. Of course all celebrations for the rest of the day were cancelled. Trying to get my laptop working when my employer finally managed to reach me. They were going to take over my work, as they could totally imagine that I was not feeling too well. Lucky me! The phone call did me good. I didn’t feel like I was going to manage to ride the bike back to my friend’s place, so I stayed in the hotel lobby waiting for more news about what had happened. There were colleagues and guests to talk with. It helped a bit. Only quite a lot later in the afternoon I felt like I could eat something again. Queen Beatrix gave an emotional speech in television just a few hours after the attack. A press conference was announced and took place in the hotel. Then the disaster became even more clear. Several people had died, others were wounded. The man in the car had apparently tried to attack the royal family, but hadn’t succeeded. He would die in the early morning of 1 May of brain injuries. I remember feeling a bit angry, because the mayor of Apeldoorn and the police officer were talking about people in the streets, as well as the royals, receiving professional aid or were getting help at the church. Nothing at the press centre. Probably nobody had thought about it that most journalists and photographers present usually rather deal with society than with accidents and attacks. Only after the press conference I cycled back. I stayed the night in Apeldoorn and went back home the next day.
On 8 May a memorial service was held in the Orpheus Theatre in Apeldoorn. Queen Beatrix, the Prince of Orange and Princess Máxima, Princess Margriet and Pieter van Vollenhoven attended, as did Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, family and friends of victims. Apart from the attacker six people had died, and several other people were wounded. Members of the royal family had visited victims in hospital that week. Just after the service it became known that a seventh person had died as a result of the attack. After the memorial service the radio colleague from Apeldoorn and I walked to the crossing. So strange to see that the crossing was so much smaller than I had thought at the moment the attack happened.
On 29 April 2010 a monument for the victims was unveiled next to the crossing. Artist Menno Jonker created a box with seven blue and white balloons, representing the seven victims, vulnerability, festivity and mourning.
The motive of Karst Tates remains unclear. He had taken a look at the crossing earlier and had apparently thought that they would leave the road open. But when he arrived by car people were standing there. Months after the attack the results of the inquest became known. Had all these people not been there the car might well have hit me, or at least would have passed me at very short distance. But the people and the fence managed to change the direction of the car …