LONDON – Relatives of a British soldier killed in broad daylight by alleged Islamic extremists say they are profoundly grateful for the support they have received from the public ahead of his funeral on Friday.
Lee Rigby was hacked to death May 22 on a London street near his army barracks. The killing shocked Britain and much of the world, especially when one of the suspects — his hands still bloody — boasted of the attack on a video widely broadcast by the media.
Prime Minister David Cameron has said "the whole country will be mourning with" Rigby's family when the soldier is laid to rest after a private service Friday in his regiment's town of Bury, northern England.
His widow, Rebecca, expressed gratitude for the "overwhelming" outpouring of support following the attack.
"There are so many kind and generous people out there," she said in a pool interview ahead of the funeral. "It's just horrible that it takes something such as this to make you see how many good people there are."
She said Rigby had always wanted his funeral service to be a "remembrance of his life," filled with happy memories — such as Rigby's love of the Irish boy band Westlife.
"He just wanted to put a smile on everyone's face," she said, recalling Rigby as "so bubbly" and energetic. "He lived his life like a kid in a candy shop."
Thousands are expected to line the streets and pay their respects to Rigby as his casket is carried through the center of the town after the private memorial service, but Rebecca Rigby said she hoped time at the cemetery would be for family to "say our goodbyes."
Rigby's parents said they hoped the day would offer "respect and dignity" for their son, who loved being a soldier as much as he loved being a family man.
"His job meant the world to him, being in the Army," said his father, Ian Rigby. "But his family still came first."
Rigby's death caused a spike in racial tensions in Britain due to the apparent involvement of religious extremists. Police reported an increase in attacks against Muslim mosques and community centers.
The two men charged in relation to Rigby's murder — Michael Adebolajo, 28, and Michael Adebowale, 22 — are due to stand trial starting Nov. 18.