London Bridge’s Spanish Hero
- Posted by Amy Bell
- On March 11, 2023
By Beth Twiston-Davies
On the evening of June 3, 2017, Ignacio Echeverría leapt off his bicycle on London Bridge. He had spotted a woman being stabbed by a knife- wielding terrorist. Grabbing his skateboard, Ignacio rushed at her assailant. As he struck him with his board, passers-by escaped to safety.
That act of valour during the London Bridge terror attack cost the 39-year-old Madrileño his life. As the 6ft2in tall financier spun round to hit a second jihadi with his board, he was stabbed in the back by two terrorists. Earlier, all three jihadis had driven a van into crowds at Borough Market.
“El héroe del monopatín,” – the skateboard hero, as Ignacio was dubbed after his death, is now on the path to sainthood. The cause to canonise him recently opened in the archdiocese of Madrid. “My son was a normal person,” says his father, Joaquín Echeverr ía. “He tried his best to do good, and he would protect anyone he saw being mistreated.”
As a younger man, Ignacio and a friend had saved a couple being swept out to sea off the coast of north Spain. That is one of many stories of his bravery, collated by his father in Asi Era Mi Hijo Ignacio (JdeJ Editores; 2019). There are tales of children in skateparks he defended from bullies – and of the beatings he sometimes received in return. “Once he asked a young lad to leave a skatepark because he was hassling a couple,” his father recalls. “The next day, nine men came to the park and laid into Ignacio. No bones were broken, but he had to go to the hospital.”
Sr. Echeverria wrote the book to “demystify my son,” saying, “Ignacio did not have any extraordinary abilities.” His courage was never in doubt. In March 2017, Ignacio had visited his family in Madrid shortly after an earlier terrorist attack on Westminster Bridge. A terrorist drove a car along the bridge injuring more than 50 people , four of them fatally. He then crashed the car into the perimeter fence of the Houses of Parliament and stabbed an unarmed police officer before he was shot dead by an armed police officer.
By then, Ignacio was working in London for HSBC. His job, as a financial crime analyst, involved detecting money laundering. “When we discussed the Westminster Bridge attack [March 2017], Ignacio said that, had he been nearby, the policeman who died that day would still be alive,” recalls his father.
Ignacio, born in May 1978, was the third of Joaquín and his wife, Ana’s five children. Last July, his school in the Madrid suburb of Las Rozas altered its name to El Instituto el Burgo de Las Rozas- Ignacio Echeverría.
A keen surfer, squash player and skateboarder, Ignacio had a degree e in French and Spanish law from the Complutense university in Madrid and the Sorbonne in Paris. “Ignacio always said what he thought regardless of other’s opinions,” recalls his father.
Once, he interrupted a professor at the Sorbonne to ask “why aren’t you teaching us the course we are studying rather than Marxist doctrine?” He failed the course. His courage extended to the workplace: in Madrid, Ignacio lost a job in a bank after challenging his boss in a board meeting.
Ignacio’s death in London sparked a huge public response. School children wrote to Ignacio’s family. The tennis star, Rafa Nadal praised his heroism. King Felipe VI declared his conduct “exemplary,” interrupting a journey abroad to travel 300 km to the nearest Spanish Consul to sign an order for Ignacio to be posthumously awarded-La Gran Cruz del Mérito Civil. For Ignacio to receive the civil honour, the Boletín Oficial del Estado had to publish an order signed by the King. Mariano Rajoy, then Spain’s prime minister, presented the award to Ignacio’s parents on the concourse of Torrejón aerodrome in Madrid when they brought his body back to Spain.
A three-minute silence for Ignacio was held in the Plaza Mayor of Las Rozas, also the scene of a vast skateboarder rally in his honour. He’s the subject of the musical Skate Hero, and a documentary, el Abogado. The director was 10 years old when he first met Ignacio in a skatepark. He was astonished that a “lawyer” – the profession he guessed Ignacio to have judging by his suit and tie – was also a skateboarder. “Abo” became Ignacio’s nickname among Madrid’s skate-boarding community. “He enjoyed the fact in London, he met skateboarders in their 40s and 50s,” said his father.
In July 2018, Queen Elizabeth II awarded Ignacio the George Medal for bravery. “That was the distinction he received which had the most impact in Spain,” Ignacio’s father told La Revista.
King Charles sent the family a type-written letter – accompanied by a translation into Spanish. Tony Blair expressed condolences in a hand-written note.
Five years after his death, Ignacio’s bravery has not been forgotten. In Las Rozas, the council has just approved a plan to use Ignacio’s name for an ‘avenida’ connecting the north of the suburb to the south. Elsewhere in Spain, including most recently in the Malagueño town of Yunqueras, new skateparks are still being named ‘Ignacio Echeverría.’
Ignacio will also feature in a new RE textbook for schools. The plan to make Ignacio a saint is supported by his family. “It moves me that my son should be an example for others,” concludes his father. “All I want is for his death to have been useful.”