I felt that Melita really deserved her own post. Sadly, I wish it were a cheerful one; but the news I have to relate here is not at all cheerful.
On Tuesday 29th September at 8am, the body of Mrs Melita Jo, a 53-year-old lady from the Philipines, was found on a bench outside St.Mary’s in Walthamstow. She had been brutally beaten to death in a horrific, motiveless attack which has stunned all the local community.
She first came to the UK in 1992, working as a nanny in Earl’s Court, before moving to Wimbledon to work for another family the following year. In 2000 she worked for a family in Tottenham, and in 2004 she lived in Hounslow. The following year she moved to Wanstead to work and police believe it was at this point that she began to sleep rough.
She arrived in Walthamstow about 15 months ago, and ended up sleeping rough in the churchyard at St Mary’s from June last year.
She was offered (formally and informally) many alternatives to sleeping rough in the graveyard, and sometimes took them up – but always returned to the graveyard as she said that was where she felt safe. Many people, from St. Mary’s and other churches she frequented, and indeed other people in the community, spent many hours enjoying her company – sharing food with her and talking; she was a very private individual however, and spoke very little of herself. She washed in the church’s bathroom and attended every single service. She was considered part of the congregation and church family.
I cannot claim to have known her well; we didn’t really talk. She was a shy, reserved woman, and being shy myself (despite any appearances to the contrary), I respected that. I always looked out for her whenever I was passing St.Mary’s however; if I was coming back from shopping, I would often give her something to eat as I passed on my way home; and if I’d been baking, I would bring her something when I went to church, which she accepted with a small smile. She always came to services – I think she drew some comfort from them, and it was a chance for her to get a cup of tea and something to eat. She was a very devout woman, but very private.
It wasn’t certain at first as to how she had met her death, but a postmortem held on Wednesday afternoon confirmed it – Melita had been murdered.
The news was reported first by the Waltham Forest Guardian, who followed it up with a statement from Simon, our vicar, and then with a further report as more of her background story came to light. Eventually the BBC picked up on the story, running with the same photo as the WFG.
It’s a relativelyrecent photo of her – I think it was taken during one of the 900th anniversary celebrations. She has her hair braided back in the photo, so you can’t see what wonderful hair she had; thick, glossy and black, it reached her hips. She usually kept it braided, but I saw her shake it out loose a couple of times in the sunshine.
I think that’s how I prefer to remember her – this small, shy woman, shaking out her hair in the sunshine amongst the flowers in the churchyard.
I don’t pretend to know what must have gone through the mind of her attacker as he brutally beat her to death. It must take a very sick mind, to willfully slaughter an innocent, defenceless woman who had sought refuge in what should have been a place of safety for her. And so I can only conclude that such a person must be desperately in need of prayer.
Tomorrow, Sunday the 5th October, prayers will be said for Melita, and for the healing of our scarred and wounded community; and I shall try to pray too for her murderer. Melita will be terribly missed by all of us at St. Mary’s and at the other churches in the area she frequented. It will seem so strange not to see her there in the churchyard any more, or sitting quietly in the back of church in her customary pew on a Sunday. I wonder if she knew how many cared and thought of her often, how many kept her in our prayers nightly, who will shed tears for her passing and yet were strangers to her?
Following the 10:30am service, a 15-minute vigil for peace and an end to violence will be held in memory of Melita outside St. Mary’s church, beginning at 12:45pm. All will be welcome.