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Yellow Is The Colour Of Death
We weren’t friends, and it would be a stretch to say we were acquaintances. In fact it wasn’t until I heard the news reports that I even learnt the correct pronunciation of her surname. And in truth the only thing I read about her in the articles following her disappearance that I already knew about her was the name of her former primary school, Mayfield and only because I’d attended it for five years with her. But that’s not to say I don’t care about what happened to her and have felt nothing over the past month.
It began for me two days after I’d boarded a homeward-bound flight which touched down in London late on the 28th August 2014. I ventured out into town, my first trip outside after arriving home with the intention to buy remaining stationary necessary for the quickly approaching school year. On my way out of the station, I spotted something: a colourless, black and white poster taped to the side of a ticket machine. I instantaneously recognised the face of the girl above the ‘MISSING’ sign: “I know her” I said “She goes to my school.”
As I journeyed from shop to shop that day my initial shock and worry faded into dismissal. In the same station where I’d first seen the poster there was A2 sized poster mounted on a display board which stated 140,000 children go missing every year in the UK, one every three minutes. And of all those 140,000 children, I was well aware a majority come home within the first seven days of being reported missing. I thought she’d just run away for two days, that she may even be back home by the time I got to the computer and typed her name into a search engine. You’ve probably worked out by now that this is not what I found when I typed in her name into Google. She was on BBC news, the Mirror, a couple of small West London news sites and a Facebook page dedicated to finding her.
Wednesday 3rd September 2014: first day of the new term she was the first thing talked about among my small circle of friends, if only briefly like gossip. It wasn’t something talked about with much seriousness or worry. Three days later a 25-year-old man was arrested by police in connection with her disappearance and another, a 51-year-old was arrested the day after that. This was the first time I cried since her disappearance. They were release. After the arrests people started thinking there was ‘less and less’ chance of there being a positive out, but I didn’t see it that way anymore. I had gone back to denying that she could even be dead.
On the 11th of September her purple rucksack was found in the undergrowth beside the river she’d last been seen. It contained her shows, the rubbish leftover from her packed lunch and underwear.
After the discovery came the ribbons: Yellow, to symbolise the hope of the community she’d be found safe. They started appearing on lampposts and around trees across Ealing beside the many posters until the whole town was covered. It was impossible to go anywhere without seeing one. The Facebook page now had 20,000 members posting the locations of pick up points for posters and ribbons, sharing news of her disappearance and inspiring messages about hope.
Nineteen days following her disappearance she was on Crimewatch as detectives appealed for information which would help them find her, a fourteen-year-old girl who simply vanished on way home. They offered £20,000 for information that would find her, or led them to the location of her missing iPhone. They also appeled help tracking down another missing Ealing resident: A 41-year-old convicted murderer last seen on the day we returned to school. In the three days which followed he became the prime suspect in her disappearance and newspapers uncovered stories of his murderous past and his narrow escape from conviction in 2009 for the sexual assault of a fourteen-year-old girl.
The break of dawn on the 20th September 2014 saw 600 officers working one her case, the largest operation since the 2005 7/7 bombings, and over 15,000 posters lining London’s streets.
On the 22nd an eight inch knife was discovered in the canal near where her bag was found. The same type weapon the prime suspect had used to murder his wife in his native Latvia. Police investigators go on News shows insisting the case is still missing persons. A video of her singing Fame’s ‘Our Here On My Own’ is released by the family via Facebook to symbolise their hope she’d still be found alive.
On Tuesday the 30th September 2014 her body was recovered from the river a month and two days after her disappearance. It had been ‘carefully concealed’ in the three-foot deep canal I’d cycled down frequently with my father. It’s only recently occurred to me that I’ve probably been past the spot where she was found. She must have been murdered somewhere along the section of path a six minute walk from her home. The news of the discovery didn’t break until the morning after, the birthday of a boy in my form. I would like to say that that the school was quieter than usual that day, there was no shouting and shoving in the corridors and a grim sadness in the eyes of passing students, but in reality, there was none. Most people didn’t cry, or even look or talk like they were upset about it. My only friend who was visibly unsettled was the same one who’d jokingly sung a version the Frozen parody “Do you want to help me hide a body” about killing her the year before. That day the family requested the posters be taken down from trees and lampposts, but the ribbons remained: a sign of a neighbourhood’s hope a sign of collective mourning.
Today school ended early. Her friends put up banners and flowers around a clock tower at the centre of our quite suburban town. It still fells surreal seeing people I’ve know most of my life laying yellow flowers for their murdered friend on the six o’clock news. A book of condolence was set up for her in the town hall and the flag flow at half-mast.
She was 14. She had a life full of beauty and potential. Now her name instead of being associated with the good she should have done is synonymous with death. She will never be what she wanted to be or do what she always wished she would be able to do. All she will reduce to is a forgotten name in the minds a nation unwilling to remember to sustain the illusion of distance and safety.
Of all the her talents and intellect, of all things she could have been and she will never, I doubt anybody ever considered (before the 28th) that all she’d become another Tia Sharp, a new Milly Dowler, a missing school girl on the front-pages of newspapers. Even after she went missing I didn’t think that this would be how our campaign to find her would end.
No one ever thinks they’ll know someone who’ll be murdered. We all like to put up glass walls between ourselves and death. We like to think that murder is such rare events it will never touch are lives, or that of an acquaintance. (As a child I even though the killing of a man down the road from my house would be front page news across my native Europe. This assertion made my older brother laugh.)
In this corner of suburban London the colour yellow has lost its warmth and forevermore will remain a colour of death and false hope embedded in the memory of my town and its people. Parents will watch their children with more care, see danger in the shadows and I doubt anything will be quite the same here again. I can see the seed of change being sown subtly throughout the town. Long after the yellow flowers have wilted and the ribbons have fallen and we have re-adopted the illusion nothing bad ever happens in suburbia. Our protective glass wall will be put up again but the hairline cracks will still be there letting the truth seep through. The thought this is all that’s going to be the legacy of her life is a somber reminder