The college lecturer had seen Abedi, who passed within a metre of her, carrying a large rucksack on his back, “walking with purpose” as he crossed the foyer, surrounded by parents awaiting the crowds of excited youngsters emerging at the end of the gig.
She said in a statement to police read to the inquiry: “He was stooped and had a bit of a swagger about him.
“He looked out of place in amongst a crowd of young girls and families whilst everyone else was looking around and towards the exits.
“He just seemed to be different and have a purpose. Knowing where he was going.
“I only saw him that once for a matter of seconds whilst I was crowd-watching but he stuck in my mind.”
Seconds later, Manchester-born Abedi, 22, detonated his device, sending thousands of nuts and bolts flying, the shrapnel shredding everything in its path.
Giving evidence, Mrs Atkins continued: “I think the bang came first, I could only see orange in my field of sight so it felt like a flash. It felt like something had rolled into me but was burning into my legs.”
Mrs Atkins then “went on “auto-pilot” to find her daughter and her friend but amidst the chaos was told “another one” had gone off.
She added: “I assumed that was inside the Arena, so I thought that was worst.
“I thought what had happened inside the Arena must have been bigger.
“I thought I might have lost my daughter and her friend, so I had to get inside. I felt the need to get in.
“I saw what had happened and realised at that point what had happened.”
She tried to get into the Arena to find her daughter but was blocked by a steward at the doors.
“And I could not get in, so I started to search where I could in the City Room. I searched the floor.”
Mrs Atkins said she also tried to make telephone contact with her daughter.
“It kept ringing out, over and over,” she said, but then felt an “intense and almost unreal sense of relief” when she finally got through.
“Eventually she did, she answered,” she said.
“I just heard this quiet voice – she’s got a very quiet voice. I think I just asked her if she was OK, then the telephone went off again.”
The public inquiry, sitting in Manchester, is looking at the events surrounding the bombing by Abedi on May 22 2017.