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London Bridge Attack: Brits Refuse to Be Intimidated by Violence

After dawn broke over the city's South Bank, Londoners jogged, tourists took in the sights, and kids played on what was a rare morning of British sunshine.
Image: Londoners and tourists walk across the city's Millennium Bridge
Londoners and tourists walk across the city's Millennium Bridge on Sunday.Alexander Smith / NBC News

LONDON — Concern, frustration, mourning, but also a determination to get on with daily life.

That was the mood in the center of London on Sunday, just hours after three men went on a rampage with a van and large knives, killing seven people and injuring dozens.

After dawn broke over the city's South Bank — a riverside promenade near the sprawling crime scene — Londoners jogged, tourists took in the sights, and kids played on what was a rare morning of British sunshine.

"You can't let these things stop you living your life, can you?" said 73-year-old retiree Val Atkinson, who was with friends visiting London from the northern city of Carlisle. "Otherwise you'd never go anywhere or do anything."

Londoners and tourists walk across the city's Millennium Bridge on Sunday.Alexander Smith

On Saturday night, the attackers drove in a white van down London Bridge and plowed through pedestrians on the sidewalk. They then entered pubs and restaurants in the trendy Borough Market food district, slashing bystanders with large knives before being shot dead by police minutes later.

It was the second attack to hit Britain in as many weeks, following the suicide bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester that killed 22 people, many of them youngsters.

The assault also carried echoes of another incident in March, when a man drove a hired car down Westminster Bridge, hitting and killing pedestrians, before fatally stabbing a policeman who was guarding the Houses of Parliament. He too was shot by armed officers.

But rather than being intimidated by this spate of violence, most people Sunday appeared to exude a stubborn resolve "not to let them win," as Justin, a 26-year-old retail worker, put it.

"I feel like the moment we let ourselves get affected, then these are attacks are working; then we've lost," said Justin, who declined to give his last name.

Justin walks to work near London Bridge on Sunday.Alexander Smith / NBC News

After a chaotic night, London was understandably far from normal.

The near constant wail of sirens provided a reminder that authorities were diligently working to find answers behind the night's events. Like in Manchester, a huge chunk of the city center was behind police tape, allowing law enforcement officials to comb through the clues left behind.

And just because Londoners were resilient, that didn't mean they weren't emotionally impacted. Seven families and countless friends were waking up bereft, asking why their loved ones were killed just because of where they stood, or drank or laughed.

For some Brits more removed from the violence, these types of attacks were beginning to take on a grim monotony.

Jan Rycroft, a 57-year-old healthcare worker (left), stands with her mother, 79-year-old Elaine Abbott (right), and their friend, 73-year-old Val Atkinson (center), on London's South Bank on Sunday.Alexander Smith / NBC News

"Everyone's quite desensitized," Justin, the retail worker, said. "I know quite a lot of people who are just… tired. Tired of everything."

He described his mood as one of "frustration, especially so soon after the last attack," referring to the Manchester bombing. "Everyone's already on edge. I'm disappointed. It's a little bit ridiculous."

Furthermore, the attack comes just days before Britain goes to the polls for its general election. The ruling right-wing Conservative Party and opposition left-of-center Labour temporarily stopped campaigning — but most politicians were unanimous that as a matter of principle the election should not be suspended.

"Everybody needs to go about their lives as they normally would. Our society should continue to function in accordance of our values," British Prime Minister Theresa May said. "But when it comes to taking on extremism and terrorism, things need to change."

London has a proud history that includes enduring "The Blitz," the name given to the relentless, eight-month Nazi bombing campaign that killed 43,000 people during World War II. And the city's been bruised by decades of attacks by the Irish Republican Army and the Islamist suicide bombings that killed 52 people in July 2005.

Back on the South Bank, most were embodying the "stiff-upper-lip" British stereotype that largely rings true in this city.

A man wearing a bow tie and a tweed jacket was about to begin a historical walking tour, cheerily explaining to his audience that "we can't go that way for obvious reasons," pointing to the police cordon, "but there's plenty more for us to see elsewhere."

Tourist attractions remained open, including the Tate Modern art gallery and Shakespeare's Globe, a reconstruction of the 16th-century theater associated with the famous playwright.

Children played among giant soap bubbles created by street performers, and buskers, such as 24-year-old Cameron Cole, began to set up their equipment ahead of what they hoped would be a profitable day.

A street performer creates bubbles Sunday on London's South Bank.Alexander Smith / NBC News

"Terror attacks are happening pretty frequently over the last few years, so I guess people have just adjusted to it," he said. "I'd say that life is just carrying on, though. I don't think Britain gets shaken that much, not to the point that people don't come out into the streets."

The scene wasn't as bustling as the South Bank can be at its peak. But this was a Sunday and the last day of the high-school spring break.

Danny Short, a 48-year-old accountant, had traveled to the capital from the seaside resort town of Bournemouth to watch "Depeche Mode" in concert on Saturday night.

Just hours before the attack, he had been drinking beer in Borough Market, but only heard about the night's events after leaving the show, which was in the Olympic Stadium on the other side of town. He was unable to get back into his hotel because it was right next to the incident itself.

Did the attack mar the evening? "Not in the slightest — it was an excellent concert," he said.

Along with his friend, 56-year-old carpenter Martin Dempsey, he was forced to find another hotel room outside the cordoned-off area.

"We had to share a bed but it was fine," he said with a chuckle.

Martin Dempsey (left) and Danny Short wait to get back into their hotel room near London Bridge.Alexander Smith / NBC News

Away from the street on social media, many Londoners reacted with anger and sarcasm to what they felt were sensationalist commentaries from America.

A tweet from President Donald Trump drew a slew of derisory responses, including from Labour politician David Lammy.

And the New York Daily News' front page — proclaiming "LONDON UNDER SIEGE" — was met with similarly raised eyebrows. So too was a headline by the New York Times claiming that the capital was "reeling."

Much of Saturday's carnage played out in Borough Market, a trendy area of warren-like railway arches that's home to posh food stalls in the daytime and stylish bars and restaurants at night.

There has been a market there for around 1,000 years and centuries ago the area was already known as "a place scarred by violence and political uncertainty," according to the market's website. As one of the historical entrances to London, it has seen Saxon kings toppled by Viking invaders and much beyond.

Strife is hardly new to this storied city. And while Saturday's events were tragic, most residents refused to let their resolve buckle.

"It depends how the situation gets, but right now it's calm, this morning at least, so we don't need to be worried," said Ashlee Wallace, a 27-year-old warehouse worker. "It's almost like a normal day."

Ashlee Wallace stands near the police cordon around the London Bridge attack Sunday.Alexander Smith / NBC News