Peguy Kato’s teenage son died after he was stabbed 11 times in the head and chest near a primary school in London.
Champion was 17 when he died following the brutal attack in 2013. “Sometimes I think, ‘maybe he’s gone on holiday and will come back’. But the years keep passing” Kato told HuffPost UK, speaking as reports of fatal stabbings and a “national knife crime emergency” flood Britain’s front pages.
Kato lives in Romford, just metres away from where Jodie Chesney was fatally stabbed on Friday in the capital’s 18th homicide this year.
Chesney was pronounced dead at the scene just over an hour after the attack took place. A man was arrested in connection with the murder on Tuesday.
Chesney was 17 years old – the same age that Champion was when he died.
Now, as politicians call for a national emergency to be declared as violent crime surges, Kato has a powerful message to the grieving parents who have lost children to the knife crime epidemic currently dominating the national news.
Be closer to your children, she says. Get to know who their friends are.
“I wish I listened to [Champion] more, knew what he was thinking and who his friends were. [...] Even on the day he died, he died for love. It was not his fight,” she says, explaining that his friend started a scuffle and that Champion had initially run away, but returned to help.
“I tell my kids now: ‘If you have a friend who loves to fight – stay away from them’.”
“I’ve learned how to communicate with my kids and how to support them to make choices in life.”
Kato is speaking out about her experience as senior police officers and politicians grapple with how to stem the current wave of violence on Britain’s streets. On Wednesday morning, one of England’s most senior police officers called for emergency funding to help officers deal with the issue.
The chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, Sara Thornton, said the recent spate of stabbings involving young people should be treated as a national emergency.
‘They said I cannot touch him’
When Kato was told of the attack on her son, she went straight to the crime scene. She wanted to touch his body and pray with him, but she wasn’t allowed to pass the forensic barriers.
“They said I cannot touch him; it’s the coroner’s body now and nobody can touch him because of the evidence,” she recalls.
“That’s the thing that I miss because for me, as a Christian, I wanted to pray with him, [to] know that he’s in peace and for him to know that I was there, touching his hand.
“But I never had that and [...] my son was in the street, by himself, on the floor. I think Champion would’ve wanted his mum to be there with him and pray like I always do.”
In the immediate aftermath of the murder, a doctor prescribed her antidepressants to help her cope, but after just one week she decided to stop taking them. “I didn’t want to live like that.”
Counselling was ineffective too, she says. “I don’t see the point for someone to come and talk to me, and me telling them my problems and start crying, and they didn’t even know my son.
“I choose God. Some [bereaved parents] go through depression, others – drugs. I choose my way. My therapy is prayer.
“People from victim support used to visit but that didn’t help me. I was not feel comfortable to talk to anyone.”
An analysis of NHS data conducted by Channel 4′s Dispatches has reflected a 93% increase in the number of young people targeted by knives in the past five years. Kato feels urgent intervention is needed.
“There’s a problem that the country needs to look into – like where are the stabbings coming, why are they killing each other, how are knives so easy for them to get?”
Current analysis of crime survey data by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner suggests there are 27,000 children aged between 10 and 17 who identify as a member of a street gang. Many are “vulnerable” and under the radar of the authorities.
Kato plans to work with schools, churches and prisons to launch a charity in her son’s name with the tagline “every child is a champion”, to help support at-risk youth and rehabilitate offenders.
“There’s not one day that I don’t think about Champion – when I go to sleep, wake up in the morning, on his birthday, my birthday, new year; when I am passing the school, old address, the cemetery – everyday.
“You never get over losing a child. You’re not going to be the same again.”
Two years ago Kato ruled out the idea of meeting Amani Lynch – the boy who murdered her son. But now, she says she is ready to meet him.
“I’d teach him about love. When people kill each other – there’s no love. He needs to love and has to know that God loves them. He need to change. After the court case, I was not ready [but now] I forgive them.”