The heartbroken family of a waitress held in Gaza has released the harrowing tape of her last moments before she was taken as today marks four months in captivity.
Romi Gonen, 23, called her mother, Meirav, moments after the car she was fleeing the Nova festival massacre in was ambushed by terrorists on October 7.
She is heard cowering from heavy gunfire in the footwell of the vehicle as her best friend Gaya Halifa, 24, lies dying in front of her.
In an utterly haunting phone call, Meirav, 54, gently tries to comfort her daughter, telling her: ‘Romichoo, I’m with you sweetheart. Everything is going to be ok.
‘We will go to the hospital – you’ll get better and we will take a trip anywhere you wish together… I am with you my beauty.’
But as terrifying explosions are heard nearby, Romi, who has been shot in the arm and has lost movement in her hand, can only respond: ‘Hello? Mummy?’
Romi Gonen, 27, called her mother, Meirav (both pictured), moments after the car she was fleeing the Nova festival massacre in was ambushed by terrorists on October 7
Romi (left) is pictured with her older sister Yarden (right)
The burnt out car that Romi was travelling in on October 7
The inside of the car that Romi was travelling in with her friends
Romi was shot in the arm and lost movement in her hand
A Hamas paraglider is pictured crossing the border on 7 October
Meirav asks for details of the car she is in to try and get help, but when she receives no response says simply: ‘Romily, you’re not alone. You’re with me, my beautiful one. Everything is ok.’
The two-minute clip is part of an agonising 45-minute phone call, most of which was too devastating for the family to release.
Just moments earlier they had thought Romi had been saved as Gaya’s friend, Ben Shimoni, 31, risked his own life to drive back into the massacre to save them.
The amateur racing driver has become known as the ‘Angel of Nova’ for his heroics that day and the Gonen family say he died ‘giving Romi a second chance’.
Her eldest sister, Yarden, 30, has demanded together with Ben’s grieving girlfriend, Jessica Elter, 27, that Romi is brought home so that Ben’s final sacrifice was not in vain.
The professional chef saved nine people by twice driving in and out of the festival, before returning once more for Gaya, Romi and another man, Ofir Tzarfati, 27.
But after speeding past terrorists and picking up the girls from a bush that was later torched to the ground he was shot and killed as they made their escape.
Gaya, sat beside him in the front, was also killed. Ofir was shot, as was Romi when the trained medic reached her right hand forward to try and take her best friend’s pulse.
Romi’s eldest sister, Yarden, 30, (left) has demanded together with Ben’s grieving girlfriend, Jessica Elter, 27, (right) that she is brought home so that Ben’s final sacrifice was not in vain
Ben Shimoni, 31, risked his own life to drive back into the massacre to save them (pictured with girlfriend Jessica)
Ben Shimoni’s route on 7 October
Romi is pictured with her best friend Gaya, (left) who was killed
Yarden (pictured with her sister Romi) said: ‘Sometimes I feel the pain so powerful, like I’m going to explode from the inside’
23-year-old Romi is pictured hiding from rockets
Meirav, who only moments before was filled with ‘pure relief and joy’ at her daughter’s miraculous escape, received the devastating call at 10.14am.
Deafening gunfire is heard in the background as Romi tells her: ‘Mum, we were ambushed.
‘The driver is probably dead. Gaya was shot and she’s not answering. Ofir was shot, and I was shot on my arm.’
She added: ‘Mummy, just so you know, I’ll be dead if no one will come.’
As the reality dawned that this might be the last time she spoke to her daughter, Meirav, a business consultant, decided to record the call.
For 45 minutes she stayed on the phone with her daughter, who was cowering in the footwell of the bullet-ridden Cupra Formentor.
‘My mum told us she understood that no-one was coming,’ Yarden, a nurse from Tel Aviv, told the Daily Mail.
‘She changed her voice to be much more calm, loving, just telling her how much she loved her and that everything will be okay.
‘She said she wanted her to hear her voice loud and clear, that she will know that there is hope, and that she will fight for her and that she loves her.’
In the heartbreaking final minutes, Meirav is heard promising Romi, who is fast losing blood, that they will return to the café where they had sat just three days earlier.
Romi is pictured with her grandmother Dvora Leshem
Romi’s sister Yarden says all she wants is for her bright, smiling, ‘crazy’ party girl sister to come home
Romi’s sister Yarden (left) is pictured holding up a picture of Romi with Ben’s grieving girlfriend, Jessica
Romi, pictured with her grandmother Dvora, was kidnapped by Hamas on October 7
Yarden and her mother Meirav are pictured on the 25 January holding hands
Ben, an amateur racing driver has become known as the ‘Angel of Nova’ for his heroics that day and the Gonen family say he died ‘giving Romi a second chance’. Pictured: Ben with his girlfriend Jessica
Romi’s best friend Gaya (pictured with Romi) sat beside him Ben in the front of the car and was also killed
‘You will tell me everything, and after you will heal,’ she says, trying to soothe her daughter – as all the time Arabic voices and gunfire creep closer.
But as Meirav sat listening from her home 150 miles away in northern Israel, terrorists arrived, opened up the car, and discussed whether to kill her daughter and Ofir or not.
They are then heard dragging Romi away into Gaza and, while Ofir was later tragically confirmed dead, nothing was heard of Romi for 55 days.
Then in November a released hostage finally reported she had seen her alive in Gaza – but it was of little relief.
Romi had told them that after the phone cut out she was pulled by the hair and her wounded arm and thrown into the floor of the terrorists’ car.
She tried to play dead, but when she tried to look up she was hit over the head with the butt of a shotgun, leaving her with a black eye and a crushed back.
‘They told us that her gunshot wound on her arm wasn’t treated good,’ said Yarden. ‘Her hand does not function. Her fingers are barely moving and are changing colours – and that was 10 weeks ago
For Yarden, all she wants is for her bright, smiling, ‘crazy’ party girl sister to come home.
‘Sometimes I feel the pain so powerful, like I’m going to explode from the inside,’ she said. ‘I really miss her.’