People often ask me how during my 25 years on television could I possibly read such awful news without breaking down? Didn’t I ever feel an intruder into people’s grief? Well, sometimes the answer is, yes.
However I genuinely believe as journalists we are simply the link by which we all learn, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t moved, changed even, by those you meet. There are some stories, some people who will stay with you forever, who change you as a person not just as a reporter of events. As a mother they were often the stories involving children. There is one such news story I was reminded of again this week and a family I will never forget. It took me half way round the world with a father and brother to the scene of a murder. This week the terrible events in New Zealand immediately transported me back 16 years to a bridge in Bundaberg, a small town on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, where the life of another young backpacker from York was taken for the contents of a handbag.
There are such similarities between what happened to 22 year old Grace Millane and 19 year Caroline Stuttle. Both were young and intelligent with plans for an exciting life. One had been to university, the other was about to go. Both were following their dream to travel the world and both were murdered following that dream. They were keeping in touch with their family every step of the way. That’s how Grace’s family knew something had happened. That’s why the Stuttle’s will forever keep the texts and emails Caroline sent home. Because both girls were having the time of their lives. They were clever, intelligent, sensible young women who knew of the dangers out there. And parents everywhere will worry even more about the safety of their children as they read what happened to them, of the cost of letting children go.
The truth is nowhere is entirely safe. In fact the statistics show more things happen to students when they go away to university than when they visit far flung places. But that doesn’t mean we will ever stop worrying about them leaving. As much as we want to keep them wrapped in cotton wool, the greatest gift we can give them is letting them fly. And that’s what Caroline’s father Alan, her mother Marjorie and her brother Richard taught me. But it didn’t stop me lying awake at night when just a couple of years after her death first one daughter left to live in Australia and then at the other went with a friend to explore the same country where Caroline’s life was taken.
Caroline’s name lives on in Caroline’s Rainbow Foundation, a charity dedicated to the safety of young people who want to see the world. Caroline died after a struggle with her handbag. She was found at the foot of a bridge still clutching the strap of her bag. All it had contained was her mobile phone and a few coins. Not worth losing your life for. I passed on that advice to my own girls. You must pass it on to yours. The charity now has safety tips for almost every country in the world. It has turned that into an app which is free to download. Only Australia didn’t take her life, just as New Zealand didn’t take Grace’s life. Like Caroline, seeking adventure didn’t take her life. Dreaming big didn’t take her life. Another person did. And that could have been anywhere in the world. More people are killed in their own home than anywhere else. Fifty thousand young people a year go travelling only to come back richer for the experience and ready for the next chapter.The one thing becoming a parent teaches you is that love is all consuming. You expect to worry about them when they are little and learning to take their first steps. Then you worry about them as they venture out into the big wide world. But the one thing you also discover is that no matter how old they are you will never stop worrying about them as long as you live. That’s what being a parent is. Alan Stuttle gave his daughter a note to take with her when she and her friend set off on their travels telling her he was glad she was following her dreams. Even when we travelled together to see where she had died he told me, “You can’t keep them safe by you forever. Eventually you have to let them go.” That is the one thing the Stuttle family taught me, hard though it is when we read again of the dangers of letting those you love spread their wings.
The truth is we can teach our children to live their life in fear, or we can teach them their greatest fear should be not living life at all.
My thoughts are with both families this week.