Mary, who has a teenage son and a younger daughter, does not shy away from her sadness. Standing before that humanities class, she cried openly, remembering Charlotte. You could have heard a pin drop. But, as she later tells the assembled teenagers, in the months and years following Charlotte’s death, and with the help of her strong religious faith, she actively chose forgiveness, in part to help free herself “from the self-imposed prison of bitterness.”
Charlotte, from east London, died in ambiguous circumstances at a 16th birthday party. Beatriz had come to the party “tooled up” with not one but two knives, in order to have it out with another girl, who she says had been bullying her. This girl was a casual acquaintance of Charlotte’s and Charlotte may simply have been, in Mary’s words, “in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“Charlotte and Beatriz exchanged words on the dance floor and then Charlotte left the dance floor with a friend and went upstairs into the bedroom of the girl whose party it was. When she went to the toilet, Beatriz was on the top landing and asked Charlotte, ‘What did you say to me downstairs?’ Charlotte said, ‘What do you mean?’ Then Beatriz stabbed her once in the chest. Charlotte fell back into the bedroom into the arms of another friend who was sitting on the bed,” Mary says.
“She was bleeding profusely. Beatriz had severed a major heart artery. Everyone was screaming. Beatriz ran out of the party, followed by a pack of teenage boys. Luckily for her, she was picked up by a police car, which just happened to be at the end of the road, otherwise who knows what would have happened to her? She’s so petite,” Mary says.
Mary was woken by a phone call from a hysterical girl who screamed “Charlotte’s been stabbed” and then hung up. Three minutes later, the police rang and came to fetch her.
“Robotic. That’s what I felt like. A robot. When we were driving to the hospital, I knew it was serious because we were driving so fast and because of the sirens. When we got to the hospital, three doctors came to see me in this little room. I just knew she was dead. They looked so forlorn. Suddenly it hit me, this heat from inside, like a furnace,” Mary says.
But the worst part came later, seeing her daughter laid out for burial.
“She had had her eyebrows done for the party. She looked beautiful. There were no bruises. All that was missing was breath,” Mary says.
“When Charlotte was murdered, forgiveness did not enter my mind. For a long time, I wanted to know, who is this wicked girl that took my daughter? Who did this evil? My baby was gone. I was just coming to terms with the loss. I had to weigh things up, to really allow my emotions to take their course,” she says.
She found it difficult to look at Beatriz in court.
“She sat there, very defiant, her hair done, makeup done, looking nice. Arms crossed. She was trendy and fashionable, and I kept staring over at her. I wanted her to look at me, to look at the pain she had caused me, for her to see that Charlotte had a mum who loved her. I wanted her to show me how sorry she was,” Mary says.
Beatriz’s mother was also in court.
“She looked so closed, so ashamed ... she wanted, through an intermediary, to come and say how sorry she was. But I just said, ‘I can’t do this right now.’ I wanted her to feel a bit of my pain at losing my daughter,” Mary says.