The family of the youngest victim of the London Bridge terror attack have revealed how their girl had dodged two other atrocities weeks earlier.
Au pair Sara Zelenak, 21, gave away her ticket to the Ariana Grande concert that was bombed at Manchester Arena, then visited Westminster Bridge less than 24 hours before a jihadi attack.
But she was murdered when a chance evening off saw her go for drinks with friends at the spot where three fanatics ran amok.
Today, to mark the fifth anniversary of the London Bridge attack this Friday, her parents spoke of how their daughter told them “I can’t wait to see you” in her final message.
They still feel closest to her when visiting the steps of London’s Borough Market, where she died.
Her mum Julie Wallace, 55, told us: “It was a crazy Sliding Doors [the 1998 film] situation. She’d avoided two terror attacks in the weeks before but been given a rare Saturday night off.”
Referring to her girl by the family’s nickname, she added: “Sarz had no idea she had walked into a terror attack. She was bending down to help someone else when the attackers stabbed her three times.
“That was Sara – caring, loving and selfless to the end. I’ve got a hole in my heart and I’m broken forever.”
Julie and husband Mark told how they have forged a bond with the policemen who tried to save her life.
In 2018, they founded a grief charity in her name, called Sarz Sanctuary, and its online treatment center launches this Wednesday. The service will link up people suffering from trauma with trained counselors online.
Stepdad Mark, 54, said: “Our new purpose in life is to change the way the world deals with trauma. We feel Sarz’s spirit has guided us to set up a charity and now a website which will connect people who have experienced traumatic grief with counselors at the click of a button.”
Sara, from Brisbane in Australia, had been in Britain for only a few months before disaster struck.
Julie, a former personal trainer, said: “Sara was the happiest she’d been in her life. She’d grown and blossomed so much and was so confident. She’d turned into this amazing woman – kind, confident and loving. Every time I spoke to her she was talking about places she’d been in London. I loved seeing her so happy.”
On March 22, 2017, the pair called their daughter after hearing how a terrorist had used a hired van to kill four people and injure more than 50 on Westminster Bridge then stab PC Keith Palmer to death.
Julie said: “I remember speaking to her and the great relief when she’d told us she’d been on the bridge only the day before the attack.”
Then, on May 22, Sara told them she had given up her ticket to see pop queen Ariana at the last minute because of a work clash. At the gig, suicide bomber Salman Abedi detonated a device in his backpack which killed 22 and wounded hundreds.
Then, just after 10pm on June 3 2017, three knife-wielding attackers brought terror to the heart of the capital.
They sped a hired white van along a pavement on London Bridge, ramming it into railings before rampaging around Borough Market, killing eight and injuring 40 in a 10-minute stabbing spree.
Julie said: “We had just had a message from her saying, ’27 sleeps until I see you. Can’t wait.’
“We were due to be meeting her in Paris and fly over. On that night, she’d just been having meatballs and a glass of wine.”
Her parents believe that when she walked out of the bar, she saw an injured man in the road and, unaware of the lurking terrorists, bent over to help him. It was then that she was stabbed three times, killing her instantly.
Julie said: “When we were told, we were just in shock. Because of the chaos of the attack, Sara was a missing person for three days. Officials said to us, ‘We have a body so we recommend you fly. But the dental records don’t match up’. So there was hope.
“We jumped on the first flight to London, via Abu Dhabi, with our fingers crossed.
“But on touchdown in Abu Dhabi, I got a call from my son who said that the DNA results proved she was dead. I thought I was going to have a heart attack. I thought I was dying.
“We eventually got to London and went straight to the scene, which was cordoned off, and were shown around. It was horrible. It took four days until we could go and check it was her at the morgue. The first thing I did was hold her hand from her to say, ‘Goodbye, I love you.’
“And from that day her spirit has been with us.”
Mark said: “I’d never been to London but I fell in love with the place. I felt the connection to Sarz. Especially near the steps to Borough Market where she died.”
Later, the family organized a charity bike ride from London to Paris, where they met two policemen who tried to revive Sara. The family have since grown close to cops Richard Norton and Clint Wallis.
Julie said: “They grew up in our arms. We’ve since met their families. We were so grateful that they did their best for us.” However, Julie and Mark share little compassion for their daughter’s killers.
Julia said: “I’m really happy they are dead.”
Tireless charity and fundraising work has led to the Sarz Sanctuary online treatment center being launched.
From Wednesday, it will give therapy with approved counselors to anyone suffering from PTSD, trauma or any other life-changing issues.
Julie said: “I really believe it will make a huge difference to those suffering. We want to provide a living, healing environment online where people can connect with practitioners. There are 117 million people around the world who suffer from PTSD and we want to try and bring them together with people who can help.
“Sara was someone who cared and would love what we’re doing.
“I still talk to her. Hopefully she’d be proud of us.”
Julie and Mark have been invited to garden parties by the Queen and forged a bond with Prince Charles due to their charity drives.
On Friday, Julie and Mark and their two sons – Sara’s brothers – will gather to remember her. Julie said: “There’s nothing good about celebrating the death of your child. The build-up is the worst.
“It’s overwhelming. There’s nothing nice about that day.
“We will visit Sara’s grave and put down yellow roses, have the boys over for a late lunch of her favorite meal and go through the old family photo albums and games she used to play.
“For us, the headstone is the place to go when in Australia but we feel a greater connection to Sara at the steps in London Bridge – the place where she died.
“If we could go over, I’d go straight to the steps. We will next year.”
- For more information about the Sarz Sanctuary or the Sarz Spirit Foundation, go to sarzsanctuary.com