Jastine Valdez: A life full of promise snatched away in a strange land

If a connection between victim and killer is proven, the murder will seem less random. But it will still make no sense

Gardaí searching for missing student Jastine Valdez have found a body. The remains were discovered in an old mine in Kilternan, south Co Dublin.

 

It ended as the nation feared it might; the lifeless body of Filipino-born Jastine Valdez discovered in heavy undergrowth after two days of frantic searching.

On the same day that 3,500 people from 120 countries across the globe gathered to celebrate their joy at becoming new Irish citizens in a special ceremony in Co Kerry, Jastine’s death was being confirmed. She was 24 years old.

Not for her a citizenship ceremony and a new life launched. Her Irish dream, and a life so full of potential, were cruelly gone.

She had come to Ireland to try to build a better life for herself three years ago. She was studying as a first-year, part-time accounting and finance student at the Institute of Technology, Tallaght, according to the registrar of the college, Dr Kenneth Carroll.

Her mother and father were living here too, staying close to their only child; all three of them a long way from home.

Last night the Garda appealed to the media to afford them privacy. And now the distance to their family and friends in their homeland must seem tortuously wide.

That they would come to what is one of the safest countries in the world, and a nation said to be among the friendliest, and yet fall victim in this way to the darkest of acts astonishes, frightens, horrifies.

Exactly how and why it happened may never be fully clear. The only two people the Garda believe could shed light on precisely what happened, Jastine and her assumed killer, 40-year-old builder and father-of-two Mark Hennessy, are both dead.

Garda on the R760 in Enniskerry, Co Wicklow, where they are investigating the suspected abduction of Jastine Valdez (24). Photograph: Eleanor Barlow/PA Wire
Garda on the R760 in Enniskerry, Co Wicklow, where they are investigating the suspected abduction of Jastine Valdez (24). Photograph: Eleanor Barlow/PA Wire

The Garda has been unable to find any known connection between the pair.

And if that remains the case, it would mean Jastine was snatched from the side of a road in Co Wicklow and murdered by a predatory killer acting on the spur of the moment.

Gardaí now believe what the witnesses saw was Jastine being assaulted, abducted and driven away to her death by Mark Hennessy

If a connection between victim and killer is proven in the days ahead, the murder will seem less random. But it will still make no sense.

Missed opportunities

Cruellest of all is the sense that opportunities were missed to stop her abductor and killer when Jastine was first snatched from the roadside.

Just after 6pm on Saturday she disembarked a bus and began walking on the R760 Kilcroney Road towards her home in Enniskerry.

A woman driving by in a car with her son saw what she said was a woman being assaulted, punched in the head, by a man who then bundled her into the back of what she described as a dark-coloured SUV.

Another eyewitness, a man also driving in the general area, minutes later saw what he believed to be a distressed woman being carried as a passenger in an SUV.

He thought it strange and after reaching home and discussing it with his wife he reported what he had seen to the Garda.

Gardaí now believe what the witnesses saw was Jastine being assaulted, abducted and driven away to her death by Mark Hennessy.

However, on Saturday evening when those first two reports had been received, all the Garda had to go on was a partial registration – 171 D – for a Nissan SUV or 4X4.

The owner, a married woman with two young children, said her husband, Mark Hennessy, had gone out in the vehicle on Saturday afternoon and had failed to return

But at 11:30pm the eyewitness accounts crystallised when Jastine’s parents contacted the Garda and reported her missing. The eyewitness accounts related to the same area Jastine would have been and the descriptions, such as they were, also fitted Jastine’s.

While gardaí had on Saturday evening visited the stretch of roadside pinpointed by the first witness as the scene of the abduction, they had found nothing.

Gardaí near Pucks Castle, in Rathmichael, Co Dublin where a huge search is taking place for missing student Jastine Valdez. Photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos
Gardaí near Pucks Castle, in Rathmichael, Co Dublin where a huge search took place for missing student Jastine Valdez. Photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

But when they went back very early on Sunday they did so with a divisional search team. And they would find Jastine’s phone.

High alert

The case then went to high alert, with the SUV or 4X4 identified in CCTV images gathered by the Garda as a Nissan Qashqai, registration 171 D 20419.

Gardaí identified its registered owner and went to her home on the Woodbrook estate in Bray. The owner, a married woman with two young children, said her husband, Mark Hennessy, had gone out in the vehicle on Saturday afternoon and had failed to return.

With that information, gardaí had their man. Rather, they knew who he was but still had no idea where he was. More importantly, they did not know where he had taken Jastine or what he had done with her.

Several public appeals were launched; first in press releases to the media and later on Sunday with a press briefing at Bray Garda station.

The registration of the Qashqai that gardaí were looking for was provided as well as a description of it and of Jastine.

The public were urged to contact the Garda if they saw the vehicle but told not to approach the driver.

Hours passed until armed gardaí, acting on a tip-off from the public, went to Cherrywood Industrial Estate to check a sighting.

The information proved solid; Hennessy was there in the car. He was armed with a knife. A confrontation ensued and an armed Garda member shot the wanted man.

When the Qashqai’s electronic controls were downloaded, they revealed the history of the vehicle’s movements

While confusion reigned for a period on Sunday night about whether Hennessy was injured or dead and whether Jastine was in the Qashqai with him or not, the shocking truth soon emerged.

Hennessy was dead and there was no sign of Jastine. She was still missing. But now she was feared dead in what gardaí suspected was a sexually motivated abduction.

When the Qashqai’s electronic controls were downloaded, they revealed the history of the vehicle’s movements.

That information resulted in the Garda sealing off a large search site in Rathmichael, south Co Dublin. When Jastine’s purse with her identification card inside was found near a pitch and putt course there, the searching was ramped up.

A team made up of gardaí and members of both the Defence Forces and Civil Defence set about scouring the area. The Garda helicopter and, ominously, cadaver dogs were also used.

In the early afternoon, about 50 metres off a narrow road at Puck’s Castle, Jastine’s body was found in undergrowth. Then began the Garda’s scramble to inform her parents of the nightmare development before word of it reached the media.

Jastine’s body still lay at the scene last night, hidden in thick gorse thousands of miles from home in a country she’d come to for a better life.