"Where there is love there is life."
It was the 1st of October 2012. That day began as a normal day for Coral and Paul Jones. It was a Monday and a school day so it involved the usual routine. Paul got the children up from bed and made them breakfast before they went to school. They lived in a small town in Machynlleth in Wales with their three children-Jazmin, Harley and April.
April, the youngest, was just 5 years old and when school finished that day, she went to the local leisure centre for her weekly swimming lesson. After that she went home. One of her friends was with her and Paul gave them some spaghetti and toast to eat. They then went out again on their bicycles.
April loved her bicycle. Her parents taught her how to cycle when she was just three and a half years old. April was born seven weeks early and had cerebral palsy from her hip to her leg so the bicycle allowed her to have full mobility and go out whenever she liked. She was a petite little girl and her parents didn't allow her to play out late but on that day, the 1st of October 2012, April asked if she could go out with her friend. They initially said no but then agreed to let her out for a few minutes extra. It had been the parent/teacher meeting at April's school that night and April had received a glowing report so they wanted to reward her. It was around 7pm and quite a bright night. There were a lot of children playing in the area and April promised she would not be long. Paul and Coral only gave permission for April to go out for just 15 minutes . They had no idea that in that 15 minute period, their lives would change forever.
April loved to play with her friends. Machynlleth was a very quiet place and the estate where April lived had lots of friendly families and neighbours. People knew each other and got on well. Children played in the street all the time. It was a very close community and people felt safe there.
When the 15 minutes was up, Coral asked Harley , her son, to tell April to come home. What happened next caused sheer fear and panic. Just a few minutes later, Harley returned home screaming. "She's been taken." Harley told Coral April had been taken.
One of April's friends saw April get into a car with a man. Coral called the police and reported her missing. She could barely speak. She told police that April had been taken. News of April's abduction spread through the town rapidly. Everyone was out within minutes looking and searching for April. Police and news stations were in the area within a very short period. It was clear from the beginning that this was not a case of a child just wandering off or getting a lift home with someone they knew. It was much more sinister than that.
Police had some information to focus their investigation on due to April's friend. She was just 7 years old but told police April got into a car and she was happy but she said she got into the car "the wrong side." That led police to believe that the car she was referring to must have been a left hand side vehicle. Those types of vehicles were extremely rare , so rare in fact that locals in the town could only think of one man who drove one. Mark Bridger.
46 year old Mark Bridger was born in Surrey and was the son of a police officer. He lived in London for a time before moving to Wales and he had lived in Ceinws for a number of years. Ceinws was a short distance from Machynlleth. When Mark arrived in Wales, he appeared to be a charming man. He was 6 foot 2 inches and told locals that he was an ex SAS officer. By all accounts, he seemed like a normal man. Mark worked in a slaughterhouse and had six children of his own with four different women. He lived alone in a small cottage. People would later come to realise though the "normal and charming" man act was just that -an act. There was nothing normal or charming about Mark Bridger.
Mark was a liar and a fantasist. The stories he told people, such as his Army background, were completely fabricated. He was also aggressive and violent especially when drinking and had previously been convicted of theft, firearm offences and assault. That showed the violent side of Mark but it did not explain why he would have any involvement in the disappearance of April. That's because the man that Mark portrayed himself as in public was not the man he was behind closed doors. He kept a dark and sinister secret hidden from everyone. Police had to quickly find out what that secret was and how it involved April.
Mark was arrested the day after April was taken and it wasn't long before police began to unravel his lies and discover who he truly was. Mark admitted to the police that April was in his car. He told them that he had accidentally knocked her down and put her in the car in order to take her to the hospital to get help. This didn't make sense though. If he took April due to a terrible accident, where was she now? Mark didn't have an answer for that. He told police he just could not remember as he had been drinking. It was true that Mark was fond of drink. In fact , things were so bad around the time that April went missing that he was drinking up to 25 cans of cider a day.
In order to try to find where April was , police needed to piece together details Mark was providing to try to locate her. The hope was to find her alive. The day April went missing started as a bad day for Mark. His girlfriend ended their relationship and he told his boss he would not be at work as he needed to sort things out. He then went to the parent/teacher meeting that evening, the same one that Coral and Paul Jones attended as one of his children went to school there. According to Mark, he then accidentally knocked April down on the way home and placed her in his car to take her to the hospital. He could provide no further details as to what happened next. Police began a thorough investigation and sought help from the community, they searched Mark's home and laptop and looked at CCTV footage taken in the area. It transpired that Mark had left quite a few details out of his account to police.
Mark had been in the town of Machynlleth earlier in the day and returned home to his cottage in Ceinws. It was there that he got on his laptop and police were able to trawl through searches and images to establish just who the real Mark Bridger was. That day, he spent quite some time looking online at images of one of his friend's daughters. She was 14 years old. He also contacted four woman via Facebook and text messages to ask them if they would go out for a drink with him. After that he went to the school. He only stayed for a few minutes and on the way back , he stopped in his car beside two schoolgirls-they were 8 years old and 10 years old and invited one of them to go to a sleepover with his daughter. He then drove off. It was after that that he spotted April out playing with her friend. April's friend told police that April got into the car herself. It certainly didn't match with Mark's account that he had to put her in the car as he had knocked her down. Her friend said April looked happy getting into the car. It was around 7.30pm and CCTV footage showed his car leaving the estate and heading towards his house.
At 8.30pm that night, a witness saw Mark driving into his driveway. That meant, that there was around 60 minutes unaccounted for.
Despite having those details, there was no sign of April anywhere.
Three witnesses told police that they saw Mark with a black bin bag in a field near his home the morning after April was taken. He was also spotted down near the river that day. Police searched those areas. In fact, the search for April was the biggest missing person search in UK history.
Mark's home revealed an insight into what happened to April. When police searched the cottage, they made a horrifying discovery. While the cottage had been cleaned, a large amount of April's blood was found near the fireplace, in the bathroom and near the washing machine. Bone and skull fragments were found in the fireplace. They were also alarmed that there were a number of specialist knives found in Mark's home.
They were sure that Mark had killed April and needed to establish why and where her body was. It was the outcome that nobody wanted. The harrowing pain surrounding April's abduction continued. Not only was it clear that April was dead, it became clear that in all probability, her body would never be found as her body was disposed of in a way to ensure she would never be found. Police believed that Mark incinerated some parts of April's body in the wood burner at his cottage and scattered other parts of April's body in the countryside.
While nobody knew where April's body was, there was no doubt surrounding the motive for April's abduction.
In the days before Mark took April, he searched for images of the two young girls , Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, who were murdered in Soham and he also searched for details in relation to the schoolgirl Caroline Dickinson who was raped and killed while on a school trip to France. His other searches included looking up "puberty" and "naked young five year old."
All in all, there were 300 horrific images of child sexual abuse found on his laptop and police believe he was looking at them on the day he abducted April. The abduction of April was sexually motivated.
April's body was never found and her parents could only bury 17 fragments of April's remains. Mark was charged with murder, abduction and perverting the course of justice.
At the Trial, Mark repeated his claim that he accidentally knocked April down with his Land Rover Discovery and picked her up and put her in the car to take her to hospital. When asked why April's friend said that April was happy and got in the car herself, Mark said that she was lying. There was nothing to support Mark's version of events. There were no marks on his car or on April's bicycle that indicated there had been a collision.
He added to Paul and Coral's heartbreak by constantly referring to April as "little April" during the Trial. That statement was even more devastating considering Mark was 6 foot 2 inches tall and to think of him overpowering such a small and petite little 5 year old girl like April is just barbaric.
When asked at his Trial about the google searches that police had discovered he had made in relation to "naked young five year old", Mark claimed he was trying to understand his own children's sexual development. His lies were becoming even more pathetic and it is little wonder that it took the Jury 4 hours and 6 minutes to find him guilty on all three counts.
The Judge in the case, Mr Justice Griffith Williams said:
"There is no doubt in my mind that you are a paedophile who has for some time harboured sexual and morbid fantasies about young girls, storing on your laptop not only images of prepubescent and pubescent girls but foul pornography of the gross sexual abuse of young children."
He was sentenced to life in prison and given a whole life tariff, meaning he will die in prison.
Mark Bridger may have taken April's life and shattered the lives of April's family and the wider community but the love everyone has for April lives on.
Thanks to the endless campaigning from April's family, Mark's cottage was demolished. In the place of a building that stood hiding the secrets of a depraved and evil man, now lies a memorial garden for April. Her memory continues to live on both in Machynlleth and Wales and her family keep her memory alive through their love and devotion for her.
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"The criminal justice system will take a hard look at what happened to Matthew Eappen. It is up to the rest of us to take an even harder look at who is minding our children."
- Eileen McNamara, the Boston Globe
"The effects of abuse are devastating and far reaching. Domestic violence speaks many languages, has many colors and lives in many different communities."
- Sandra Pupatello
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