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Man Comforted Dying 8-Year-Old After Manchester Blast as She Asked for Her Mom: ‘I Haven’t Stopped Crying’

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Paul Reid came to Manchester Arena Monday night to pick up a friend who was working at the venue during an Ariana Grande concert. When he heard an explosion, he knew immediately it was a bomb, and he ran up a staircase in the direction of the noise.

Amid the chaos following the suicide bombing that killed 22 people and hospitalized 59, he spotted Saffie Rose Roussos, 8, on the floor. The little girl was drifting in and out of consciousness and was having trouble breathing, and her legs appeared to have been fractured.

“I asked her her name and I thought she said ‘Sophie,’ and I asked her age,” Reid tells PEOPLE. “Then I realized she was struggling to talk and she asked, ‘Where’s my mum?’ ”

Reid, a forklift operator from Walsall, stroked her face and comforted her.

“I said, ‘We’re going to find her in a minute,’ ” Reid says. “She asked me, ‘What’s happened?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know — but we’re going to get you some help.’ ”

He adds, “I kept on being like, ‘Sophie, come on. We are going to go now’ — trying to keep her talking, keep her awake.”

Soon, police arrived and Reid helped them take Saffie out on a makeshift stretcher.

Reid was determined to help anyone he could. When he spotted a paramedic tending to a man who was bleeding from his stomach, he offered to hold the bandage in place so the paramedic could help someone else.

“[I] started talking to the man and reassured him that help was coming,” Reid says. “He was from Liverpool and I asked him if he was an Everton or a Liverpool [soccer] fan. He said he was a Liverpool fan and I said, ‘I’ll stop and help you now!’ It was just to help him to get him talking. He had a smile to himself and I said we would watch some football.”

Over the course of the night, Reid estimates he carried six or seven people out of the arena. But he insists he is not a hero.

“If it happened again, I would run straight up those stairs again,” he says, adding that “I just knew it was a bomb. Because of the times we’re in, even if a car goes off, I think it’s a bomb.”

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Prior to his encounter with Saffie, Reid encountered a man with a laceration on his leg who was struggling to put it on. He also saw a teenaged girl on the floor, shaking.

“I was going to bend down [but] a woman said to me, ‘You’re too late for her. She’s gone,’ ” he says.

Reid finally got home to Walsall at about 4 a.m. He called the police and asked after Saffie, but was told it was too soon after the blast and that they didn’t know her fate.

“It was on the news later that morning that there was an 8-year-old girl involved. And I just knew,” he says. “Looking at all those people, she was the smallest one.”

He adds, “Since then I haven’t stopped crying. When I put her in that ambulance, she was alive and I thought I’d be seeing her again — and standing over her bed and telling her how much of a soldier she is. Trust me, there were big men in there screaming and crying, and she wasn’t doing anything like that. Not even crying.”

The past few days have been hard, he says.

“I’m trying,” he says. “I’m taking it day by day.”