26 Jan, 2011 @ 13:21
3 mins read

Arriate murder: Paradise lost

IT has been a very sad week.

It’s not often that someone you know dies, let alone gets killed in cold blood.

And when the victim is a sweet 13-year-old girl, it is all the more shocking.

It was last Thursday that I was met with the news that a teenager had gone missing in the village, where I have spent the best part of the last year.

The sleepy mountain village of Arriate was suddenly turned on its head the following day when the body of Maria Esther Jiménez Villegas, known to her friends as ‘Esther’, turned up brutally murdered.

In the last few days I have watched as the normally peaceful spot, that sits on the edge of the Sierra de las Nieves natural park, has had to deal with the aftermath of this tragic event in the glare of the world’s press.

Everyone I know, from the office cleaner, whose son has been questioned three times, to the parents of the teenage girls I teach, everyone is shocked.

They are, of course, very sad; it is a tragedy for the village to lose someone so young.

But you get the sense that for most it is all just completely surreal. It simply hasn’t sunk in yet that a girl they all knew so well was killed so cruelly on their doorstep.

Because even though it is a cliché; it certainly holds true that you would never expect something like this to have happened here.

Maybe in a big city, but not in this friendly village of 4000 people, where everyone knows each other and the killer is almost definitely living among you.

Moreover, and perhaps most shockingly, only 16 teenagers have been murdered in the whole of Spain in the last decade.

This is considerably lower than many other countries.

It puts things in perspective and really brings home that this is something that just doesn’t happen…until now.

Whether you want to believe it or not, Esther, an innocent 13-year-old girl, who smiled and spoke to everyone she met, has been brutally murdered.

And parents, who for years took for granted the safety of their surroundings, are suddenly scared for their children.

For this was a village where everyone went out late, where all the children played together and kept an eye out for each other.

Bad things quite simply did not happen in Arriate.

The death has certainly brought the village together as the locals grieve for the teenager and show their support for the family.

But is also threatens to tear it apart. Quite simply, fear breeds suspicion.

And as the news gets round that Esther most likely knew her killer and walked quite willingly to meet him – or them – in the place that would become the scene of her death, suddenly, everyone in Arriate has become a suspect.

The grieving parents – who I passed today walking down the main street doing some shopping and attempting to regain a semblance of normal life – have been questioned.

Friends of mine have been questioned.

And their children have been questioned.

One friend, whose son has now been dragged into the investigation and questioned three times after he reported seeing a car on the night of the murder, says she cannot sleep at night as she is so terrified about the situation.

In particular, the police seem to be focussing their attention on teenagers.

And if it turns out that they are correct and Esther was killed by other youngsters, I honestly believe it could tear the village apart.

As one local explained: “I believe it is someone local as no one else would know that particular spot. And whoever it turns out to be, their family will have no choice but to leave. It will be so tragic for the village.”

Everyone here remains on tenterhooks to discover who killed Esther, with the state of tension heightened by the mayor constantly insisting that arrests will be made “within hours” or “today or tomorrow”.

On top of this the media are frequently revealing new and contradictory clues.

And rumours are flying around with everyone offering up their own theory on what happened and who is guilty.

Of course, being a journalist and working at the Olive Press, I understand that the media is only doing its job and attempting to get a handle on a horrible situation.

But ultimately when you almost become the story – being a local resident, as I am – it feels almost surreal and somehow wrong to speculate so much.

So even after Esther has been laid to rest, and after the killers have been caught, it is going to be a long time before the village gets back to normal.

Like Dunblane in the UK, or Columbine or Waco in the US, people in Spain are long going to remember the name Arriate for all the wrong reasons.

Arriate will never forget the events of the last week, and as we all shed a tear for Esther, we must also shed a tear for a village that will never be the same again.

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