Shelley Exley, with the Sergio memorial. :: R. L.
In 2012 British and Spanish in Coín were united by tragedy. Shelley Exley and Mari Carmen Márquez speak to SUR in English
When a 23-year-old Spanish waiter Sergio Retamar Márquez was brutally murdered by his flatmate in Bournemouth during the summer of 2012, not only did his mother find some comfort from her friends and family but also from the support and concern of members of the foreign community in her home town of Coín.
“My husband heard that a boy from Coín had been killed in Bournemouth but I never suspected it would turn out to be my friend’s son,” says long term Coín resident Shelley Exley.
“People were talking about it on Facebook and asking about contributing towards buying some flowers for Sergio’s funeral service, so I offered to organise it all through a local florist. I set up a Facebook group where people could share their thoughts and several people left messages of condolence.
“When the story about the flowers and the online group was covered in SUR in English, things really took off and lots of people joined the group. Enough money was collected to buy a huge wreath in just a few days but people still wanted to give more. Eventually the group decided to use the extra money to create a permanent memorial to Sergio with a tree planted in his honour,” explains Shelley.
Sergio’s mother, Mari Carmen Márquez Torres, says that during the first few days following her son’s death she avoided newspapers and the television because many of the details of the attack were too gruesome to handle.
“I started to hear stories that the British community had raised funds for flowers and were leaving messages expressing their sorrow and sadness at what had happened to my son but in my confusion I thought it was just people in Bournemouth.
“Sergio was a popular boy, always smiling and he made friends easily wherever he went and I received lots of letters from people in Bournemouth. One came from a mother whose children had played with Sergio on his last flight from Spain. She only knew him for a couple of hours on the plane but said she would remember Sergio for the rest of her life. I was astounded though when members of my family explained that people in Coín who never even knew my son were being so generous.”
After her son’s funeral, Mari Carmen began the long wait for the trial of his killer to begin. “Sergio’s father left us when my son was just a year old, so it was only the two of us all the time he was growing up. We were more like best friends and our house was always filled with ‘our’ friends, not ‘his’ or ‘mine’. I will never get over the loss.”
Shelley Exley meanwhile negotiated with Coín council to create a permanent memorial and plant a tree in Sergio’s memory using the remainder of the funds provided by the Facebook group.
“People just wanted to do something to show their compassion over what had happened. I am a very organised person, so I took on the role of working with the town hall and when Mari Carmen was asked for some text for the memorial, I wrote the dedication poem that forms part of the small monolith in front of the tree.”
In November, on what would have been Sergio’s 25th birthday, a ceremony took place to dedicate the tree and memorial. “There were friends, family, councillors and quite a few members of the British community at the dedication of the tree and I had support from the local church, my friend Shelley and John Sutton, a solicitor from Coín who volunteered his services to help when the Facebook group was launched,” says Mari Carmen, who travelled to the UK in December for the court case that saw Karl Addo convicted of killing her son.
“The judge told me that my son’s killer would never be allowed free but that will never help me. I have lost everything in the most horrible way. I had to wait 44 days to be able to bury him and then they wouldn’t let me see his body. I could only cuddle his coffin. My only child. My best friend. How do you get over that?”
Among her son’s possessions that were eventually returned to her was a small piece of paper with a list of 12 tasks that Sergio had set himself when he left Coín to start his new life in Bournemouth. Mari Carmen has framed her son’s list of ‘things to do’. Although several tasks have been crossed off, such as “find a job” and “find a flat”, for the 12th item on the list Mari Carmen’s son wrote himself one final instruction: “Disfrutar. (¡No borrar nunca!)”, “Enjoy. (Never cross off the list!)”
THE SUR IN ENGLISH CONNECTION
When SUR in English published an article about the Facebook group created in memory of Sergio, membership of the group increased dramatically, as did donations towards the funeral wreath and memorial. Shelley Exley, a friend of the victim’s mother for nearly 30 years, said, “The response from SUR in English readers to the first article was incredible. I expected residents from Coín to contribute but there were quite a few people from Bournemouth and even some from the USA when news of the story reached there. It was a case of communities coming together to express their sadness and wanting to do something positive.”
Although the Facebook group was due to close once the funds had been spent, members are still sharing messages about Sergio. “It is a nice feeling at the end of the day to know that when something shocking happens, people will come together to do what they can,” she adds.