Grace Idowu (England)

“When I recovered myself I told him, “I’m not crying for David, I’m crying for you. What have you done with your life?”

Photograph by Brian Moody

In 2008 Tim and Grace Idowu’s  third child, 14-year-old David, was murdered in the park opposite his home in South London. The perpetrator was 16-year-old Elijah Dayoni who later received a minimum sentence of 12 years. In 2010 Grace met Elijah at a restorative justice conference at Ashfield Young Offenders Institute. The David Idowu Foundation (www.davididowufoundation.com) has been set up by Grace and Tim in memory of their son to educate young people about the dangers of gun and knife crime.

It was a warm day in June and I was working behind the till at Tesco’s when two Police officers came through the door. At first I thought they were after a shoplifter but then they asked me to come to the manager’s office with them. “We’re here to tell you that one of your boys has been stabbed,” they said. I don’t remember what happened next but I woke up on the floor. Then I heard someone say, “Grace, he isn’t dead”. When they told me it was David who had been stabbed, I was so shocked, and I knew then that whoever stabbed David could not have known him.

By the time I arrived at the hospital I was on fire and couldn’t stop shaking. “We’ve resuscitated him twice already,” the doctor said. My youngest son, James, was then brought to me, and later my husband arrived. On hearing the news he just collapsed, rolling on the floor crying like a baby. Our James tried to pull him up, saying to his father “You’ve forgotten what you always say; you say that we should pray.”

I’d never seen my husband cry before and when I saw my little boy so confused I knew I couldn’t let what was happening to David break our family apart. I knew I had to stay strong. And so we started praying. Those hours were like a thousand years.  We walked up and down, crying and praying.

We were there for 20 days and every day they were working on David. He lost 90 per cent of his blood as they tried to stitch his heart together. After 10 days they had to amputate one of his legs to save his life. Then his liver packed up. The doctors tried their best but on the 19th day we were told his second leg would also have to be removed. That was the hardest. And then, on the 20th day, David passed away.

Three days after David was attacked the Police had come to tell me they’d caught the boy who stabbed him. I told them I didn’t want to know anything about Elijah until they investigated David. I knew he wasn’t involved in crime but I also knew if I said wonderful things about my son they’d just think it was a mother protecting her child.   So I was satisfied when three months later the Police returned and said they’d spoken to lots of people and couldn’t pin a single thing on David. Even the dinner ladies at his school cried when they heard what had happened.

Throughout the trial Elijah didn’t say anything but on the day he was sentenced he wrote a letter, which was passed from his barrister to the judge. In it he said that he was very sorry.

In the months that followed we took everything to God to try to make peace with what had happened. But my husband was still very angry and James became increasingly withdrawn. He and David had done everything together. I thought about David all the time, but I also thought about this boy Elijah and after a while I told the Police I wanted to meet him.   In 2009 the Police asked Elijah but he refused to see me. I asked them to try again and the following year he agreed. My husband didn’t want to come.  He said ‘I don’t want to risk doing something nasty to this boy.”

When I arrived in the room, Elijah was crying bitterly with his head held low. I’d been told he’d been crying all morning and the officer had told him the meeting could still be cancelled but he’d insisted on going ahead.

The priest from the prison and a police officer were with us. I asked to sit next to Elijah, but they said I had to sit opposite him with a table between us. I said to the officer, “I’m not strong enough to strangle him you know.”

The first thing I asked Elijah was “did you know David?” He said “No”. I then asked, “so why?” Elijah said, “I stabbed him because he was from a rival school and I had a knife.” That was when I broke down; it was the first time I’d cried in front of other people.  When I recovered myself I told him, “I’m not crying for David, I’m crying for you. What have you done with your life?” Then he said, “please Grace, don’t hate me. I didn’t mean to kill your boy.”

I told him about David and about David’s three brothers.  I said, “you’ve taken our best friend from us.” And then I leaned over and said, “but I want you to know that I forgive you,” and I hugged him.

I left that day feeling a huge sense of relief both for me but also because one day this young man will be released from prison and I don’t want his bitterness to destroy his life as well as the lives of others.

I also asked Elijah to write a letter to David’s three brothers which he later did. This gave them back their strength and confidence. Then last year my husband, who had been so angry, told me that through prayer he had found it in his heart to forgive Elijah. “I too could now sit in the same room with him,” he said.