A mother screamed for help as she and her two young daughters were doused in a corrosive substance in a “targeted attack” - leaving her and a three-year-old with potentially life-changing injuries.
Police are hunting for a man who fled the scene of the horrifying incident in Clapham, south London, at around 7.25pm on Wednesday night which left at least nine people injured, including the mother, 31, and her daughters aged three and eight.
Hero passersby who rushed to help the woman and her children were also hurt, along with police officers who were first to respond to the attack.
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Police confirmed on Thursday the mother and children were doused with an alkaline substance and remain in hospital. Although their injuries are not thought to be life-threatening, two could be left with life altering wounds.
Detectives believe the attacker is known to the mother - warning he is a “dangerous individual” as they issued an appeal for witnesses to come forward.
Shannon Christi, 35, said she ran outside on hearing the mother scream for help, before seeing a man in black throwing a child to the floor twice “like he was in the wrestling ring”.
Without hesitation she ran towards him and grabbed the three-year-old girl off the floor and brought her inside to safety. Her partner dressed in his slippers ran after the suspect chasing him away down the street.
She told The Independent: “I heard screaming ‘help, help’ and came outside. I saw the man throwing the girl on the floor like he was in a wrestling ring. He was angry.
“I rushed in and grabbed her. I didn’t see what he looked like or where he went I was focussed on her. I poured water on her and called the ambulance.
“The child was crying she told me her name and she was three but I couldn’t hear her through the tears.”
Ms Christi had gone to get hospital treatment when her lips and her arm started to burn after coming into contact with the child. She added: “I just hope she is ok. I would do it again in an instant 100 per cent. I couldn’t leave her like that.”
Another eyewitness described the horrifying moment the three-year-old girl was slammed to the floor twice like a “ragdoll” by a man who had climbed out of the same car as the mother and two girls, who were dressed in school uniforms.
“It was horrendous I have not slept a wink since. I saw what I thought was a normal accident but then I saw him come out walk to the back passenger side and take a child out,” she told The Independent.
“He lifted the young child up extended his arms up above his head and throw her to the floor like a ragdoll. I thought she was dead, everyone was screaming ‘stop’ and ‘call the police’.”
The family-of-three are thought to have been staying at the nearby Belvedere Hotel, where staff confirmed they are supporting the guests affected.
The attacker and the mother were said to be arguing in the street after getting out of the car in Lessar Avenue. Shortly afterwards, she began screaming “My eyes. My eyes. Call the police. My eyes,” Sky News reported.
The man then allegedly returned to the car and attempted to run the woman over, according to The Sun.
The witness said, “there was a little baby girl banging on the door on the dad’s side, the lady was crying, screaming” and calling for help.
“He opened the door, took out the baby and banged her against the ground twice”.
Another witness told the BBC that the mother cried “I can’t see, I can’t see” as he tried to help her. “It was quite horrific,” he added.
A couple who live close by said they ran to the street to help the woman crying for help.
“We came outside and saw this guy and he took a girl out of the car and he slammed her to the ground twice,” a witness told the the British broadcaster. “I chased him half way down the road, but I was in slippers so didn’t get very far.
“As I came back, that’s when I saw the woman who had been attacked with whatever substance it was so I ran inside to get some water and just sprayed her down with water.
All of the injured individuals were treated on scene, with five being transported to a major trauma centre. Three were taken to a local hospital for treatment and one other person was discharged at the scene.
The Metropolitan Police commissioner called out the “ghastly” chemical attack as he confirmed the attacker was known to the family.
“It’s frightening. This is a ghastly attack. But everything we know points this to being two people who know eachother. It’s not random,” Sir Mark Rowley told BBC Radio London.
Sir Mark added that the mother and youngest daughter’s burns were “potentially substantial” and a live manhunt for the suspect was underway.
In an update on Thursday, Superintendent Gabriel Cameron praised injured passersby and officers for their bravery in responding to a “terrifying scenario”.
He added: “The woman, who is aged 31, and her two daughters - aged eight and three - all remain in hospital. While none of their conditions are life-threatening, the injuries to the woman and younger girl could be life-changing. It may be some time before hospital staff are able to say how serious that might be.
“I am sure the public will join me in saying they are in our thoughts and we wish them the fullest possible recovery.
“Three women - two in their 30s and one in her 50s – who were injured when they bravely came to the aid of the family, have all been discharged from hospital with minor burns injuries. A man in his 50s who also helped declined hospital treatment for minor injuries he suffered.
“Five officers who were injured as they responded have all been treated and have left hospital.”
He said the corrosive substance is now known to be alkaline and revealed that the suspect attempted to escape in a car but fled on foot after crashing into a stationary vehicle.
“We believe the man and woman are known to each other. Our investigation is in its early stages and we are working to establish why this awful incident has happened,” he added.
“Officers from across the Met are working with partner agencies and forces to locate and arrest the man. While this appears a targeted attack, he is a dangerous individual and we urgently need to find him. We will release more information about him as soon as we can.”
Firefighters also responded to the scene and used specialist equipment to detect the substance used, while the London Ambulance Service said it sent members its hazardous area response team to the site.
“We treated nine people, five of whom were taken to a major trauma centre. Three patients were taken to a local hospital and the other was discharged at the scene,” a spokesman said.
Streatham MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy hailed the actions of the “absolute heroes” who stepped in grabbing the youngest child away and chasing off the attacker.
She told The Independent: “They are amazing. They are true heroes, honestly, they came out at complete risk to themselves and did what they had to do to keep people safe.
“They are all fine now. It’s just the woman and her children who have life-changing but not life-threatening injuries.
“The local people here are absolute heroes they didn’t think about their own safety once.”