Jodie Chesney’s step-mum has said the night the teenager was stabbed to death ‘still haunts her’ on the fourth anniversary of her murder.
On March 1, 2019, Jodie, 17, was with her boyfriend and friends in a park in Harold Hill, east London, when she became the victim of a ‘cowardly’ drug turf war.
Two hooded figures walked toward Jodie before one of them stabbed her in the back, and she fell into the arms of her boyfriend.
The popular A-Level student died on her way to hospital and her family never got to be with her in her last moments.
Eight months later Svenson Ong-a-Kwie, 19, and Arron Isaacs, 17, were jailed for Jodie’s murder, and were told they would spend a total of 44 years behind bars.
Ong-a-Kwie was jailed for life with a minimum term of 26 years, while Isaacs was jailed for at least 18 years.
Jodie’s death at the time caused huge ripples across the UK, with a photo of the popular teenager, who was a keen Scout outside of Downing Street, on the front pages of national newspapers the next day.
She was studying psychology, sociology and photography at Havering Sixth Form College and her friends, family and dog Woody ‘meant the world’ to her.
After her death, the area of Harold Hill was transformed purple – which was her favourite colour.
Jodie would dye her hair purple, and after her murder, thousands of purple ribbons were hung outside homes and attached to fences near Amy’s Park, where she was killed.
There were even bows put on barriers outside of the Old Bailey as Jodie’s murder trial began.
Now four years on, Jodie’s step-mum has spoken about the immense pain she still feels from the death of her innocent step-daughter.
Joanne, 42, told Metro.co.uk: ‘That night still haunts me. The phone call from Peter [Jodie’s father] is etched in my brain. I can remember every word he said, having to call his brother to confirm what happened because I couldn’t believe I’d heard the words right. It just didn’t make sense. It still doesn’t.
‘I was shocked, numb, in complete disbelief that something like this could happen to someone so innocent.
‘It felt like our whole world had been ripped apart and we just didn’t know what to do; what to say, what was going on. I remember getting home and taking one look at Pete’s face and falling apart completely.’
She added: ‘We didn’t actually know what had happened or any other details other than she’d been stabbed in the back and had died on the way to hospital.
‘Waiting for the police to arrive seemed like a lifetime and even when they did, they couldn’t tell us anything, they didn’t know many more details than that at the time themselves!
‘Even now I struggle to come to terms with what happened, looking back it breaks my heart that for the first year we chose not to celebrate Peter’s birthday as a family.
‘If we hadn’t made that decision; she would still be with us. But life is full of what-ifs. No one could have predicted what happened. Not in a million years.’
Joanne was first introduced to Jodie aged six – and the two quickly became close.
They spent Christmas Eve together every year and would watch their favourite movie together – National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation – and Joanne still carries on the tradition now.
Another fond memory was in the summer before Jodie died when Joanne was nominated by the teenager to take part in the Ice Bucket challenge.
Joanne said: ‘She nominated me then managed to hit me in the head with the bucket as she tipped the freezing cold water over me!’
Their close bond led to Jodie posting a photo of Joanne online and said: ‘Your mum is the person you grew up with, took care of you and listened to your problems. Jo is my mum and nothing can change that.’
But Joanne missed out on two of Jodie’s biggest birthdays, as she was due to celebrate her 18th just weeks after she was killed.
While last year Joanne should have been celebrating Jodie’s 21st birthday with her – as she turned 40 – but instead it was just a few weeks after the third anniversary of her death.
Joanne said that night she didn’t only lose her stepdaughter, but Jodie’s killers’ senseless actions also caused the collapse of her marriage to Peter, Jodie’s father.
But Joanne has made sure there will always be a part of her with her forever, as she has several tattoos dedicated to her.
She has a unicorn on her arm and has a drawing and Jodie’s handwriting from a Mother’s Day card she made as a kid.
She told Metro: ‘She was a wonderful stepdaughter, I was so proud to be her step-mum.
‘She was also a lot like me as a kid, I think that’s one reason why we bonded. She was painfully shy as a child and it was only in the last few years before she died that she really started blossoming into a sociable, more outgoing young woman.
‘She was rarely any trouble, she absolutely adored her family and would do anything for them. She would do anything for anyone in fact.
‘It’s hard to put into words what it was like being her step mum because it was just the way we were, we were a family and even from the beginning, I never felt like an outsider. I was truly blessed to be a part of her life.’
Joanne, who works in accounts for a firm in central London, was sat in the public gallery of the Old Bailey as the eight-week trial in Jodie’s murder took place.
She was hugged by one of Jodie’s aunts as her statement was read out during the trial.
In the statement, she said: ‘Where do I even begin? How has losing Jodie affected our lives? Well, I have lost not only my stepdaughter but also my family, my marriage, my dog, my home and at times, my sanity.
‘I have watched the people I love crumble to pieces. I have watched my best friend change beyond recognition through grief. None of us will ever be the people we were when Jodie was alive.
‘The thing that bothers me the most is that none of these kids, and they are just kids, care about what they have done to our family. Neither of them cares about what they did to Jodie that night and what they have taken away from us.
‘Neither of them have shown any remorse for what they have done. If they cared at all then at least one of them should have had the decency to own up and admit they made a mistake.
‘They do not care about the damage they have caused, they all want to pass the blame to try to get themselves out of trouble.
‘If only they had known what they were doing that night, what they were taking away from us in that moment of madness. If only they knew the person, they were taking away from the world. Jodie was good, pure and kind in every sense of the word.
‘There is a reason no one has heard a bad word said about Jodie since her death, this is because there was not a bad word to say. She would do anything for anyone at any time.
‘The night of the 1 March will remain etched in my brain forever. I will never forget the moment I was told those horrible words “Jodie’s been stabbed, she’s dead”.
‘Coming home to face the rest of the family not knowing what is going on, what to do, or what to say. The pain and grief encompassed every single person in the room. Not even beginning to understand how this could have happened to her, to our family.
‘I will never forget my husband breaking down, blaming himself for not being with her when she took her last breath. Knowing there was absolutely nothing I could do to take that pain away.
‘There have been numerous occasions over the last eight months where I have wondered how we can carry on without Jodie but we have all had to for Jodie’s sake, we all need to carry on her legacy and make sure no one ever forgets her name or her face.
‘We owe it to Jodie, our light in the darkness, our angel, our princess. Jodie will not be forgotten and she will not have died in vain.’
And her thoughts are still echoed today.
Jodie’s father, Peter, had been celebrating his 39th birthday with then-wife Joanne on the day of the murder on March 1, 2019.
While not far away drug dealer Ong-a-Kwie and his runner Isaacs had been looking to take revenge on rivals but killed Jodie by mistake.
Jodie had been socialising with friends that evening when the two teenagers emerged out of the dark and one plunged a knife into her back.
They both fled in another drug dealer’s car but were arrested together days later as they fled from a house linked to Isaacs.
Speaking about whether she will ever be able to forgive Jodie’s killers, or whether she feels justice for her step-daughter, she said: ‘Not really. It’s hard to class it as justice when they’re probably having the time of their lives in prison, they never cared about what they did, just trying to blame each other.
‘I was asked before if I could forgive them but no, you can’t forgive what they did. They killed her for no reason and didn’t even care.
‘During the trial, there was no remorse, you could see in their mannerisms and the looks on their faces that they just didn’t care about who they had killed.’
She said: ‘Losing Jodie changed my life completely. I basically started again from scratch at the age of 37 which is hard enough anyway without the heartbreak and grief.
‘I’ll never have any more children, I couldn’t cope with losing another child. It’s not something you ever get over and the way things are at the moment, how are you supposed to keep children safe?
‘Losing a child is one of the most painful things you can ever experience. You’re supposed to protect your children and it hurts so much that we couldn’t do that.’
Today marks the fourth anniversary of Jodie’s murder, and it is the only time Joanne feels strong enough to be able to visit the park where she was killed.
The area of Harold Hill showed an outpouring of grief after Jodie’s death, and it is something that has stayed with Joanne in the years after her death.
She said: ‘The place doesn’t always get a good reputation but they’ve been nothing but wonderful and supportive from the day it happened until now.
‘Seeing the purple ribbons everywhere was comforting at a time when we really needed it. It felt like the whole world was there for us.
‘As a community, they’ve kept the park and Jodie’s flowerbed tidy and even installed a bench in her honour. They accepted Jodie and us as a family from day one and I’m truly appreciative to every single person, from the vigil, to the GoFundMe, to the ribbons and the sheer volume of locals who turned up to pay their respects at her funeral.
‘I’ve never felt a sense of community spirit like it and thank them from the bottom of my heart, I’ll always appreciate everything they’ve done for us.’
Today Joanne will take a giant unicorn-shaped balloon and flowers to Amy’s Park, and this year it will be the first time she will get to see a bench that has been erected in memory of Jodie.
She said: ‘Every year is different, you just never know how you’re going to feel until the day itself. The anniversary is the only time during the year I can bring myself to go to the park. I always leave flowers and a giant unicorn balloon- she loved unicorns.’
Last year in London, 14 teenagers were killed in the capital due to knife crime, and in the same year Jodie was killed, that figure was up to 25.
But the issue hasn’t stopped. Just a few miles away in Romford on Monday night, three teenage boys were injured after a knife-fight broke out in a takeaway shop.
Joanne said she doesn’t have the answers as to how to stop the thoughtless violence, but speaking to other families who have suffered like her has helped.
She told Metro: ‘Knife crime has got so much worse over the last few years, every day you read in the news of another stabbing.
‘Kids just don’t seem to care what they do to each other anymore, they think nothing of carrying a weapon and using it. I thought it might make a difference, an innocent young girl being killed with a knife, but it hasn’t.
‘Any family could be next; a family just like ours. Jodie had never been in any trouble, she was a normal teenager, enjoying life.’
A charity has now been set up in Jodie’s memory called the Jodie Chesney Foundation and is helping to tackle knife-crime violence in the borough.
Joanne said: ‘I just want her to be remembered for all the good things she did, the person that she was rather than just for what happened to her. She really was the kindest, sweetest person and everyone who knew her could tell you the same thing.
‘The messages we got from friends, teachers, even random strangers, telling us how lovely she was is heart-warming. She just cared about everyone and everything and wore her heart on her sleeve.
‘I’d love children to hear her story and want to be more like her. Hopefully her legacy will live on for a long time to come.’
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