I was excitedly planning a future with my fiance Mark when the unthinkable happened…
By Zara Powell, 28, from Weston-Super-Mare
I’ll never forget the moment my entire life changed. It was during the night on October 12 2013, and I was about to clock off from my job manning the phones at a local taxi firm. It was about 3am when my phone rang, from a withheld number.
‘Hello? Who is this?’ I asked, glancing at the time.
‘It’s the police,’ a female voice replied. ‘You need to come to Weston General Hospital as soon as possible. It’s your partner, Mark. I’m afraid he’s hurt.’
Mark and I first met in July 2010. I was instantly attracted to him – and I was thrilled when we swapped numbers and arranged to meet up. We dated for a few blissful months, but in December 2010 Mark broke it off. I was devastated when he insisted he wasn’t ready for commitment.
It wasn’t long before I started a new relationship with Simon*, completely on the rebound. Within months I was pregnant, and in May 2012 I married Simon.
But even on my wedding day I knew I was with the wrong man – Mark was the one for me. It’s no surprise that my marriage didn’t last long, and we separated in August 2012.
I was still in touch with Mark, so when he popped into the taxi firm office where I worked, I made a point of telling him I was single again.
‘Really?’ he said with a grin. ‘Well in that case I’ll have to take you out for a drink. I should have never let you go, and I’m not missing out on another chance now.’
From then, we were inseparable. Mark treated me like a princess, and my two kids from
my previous relationship absolutely adored him. He lived about 10 minutes away, but spent all his time at my house.
In many ways, Mark and I were like chalk and cheese.
He loved his footy and cricket, while I liked my soaps and shopping. He was into heavy metal like Gun’s and Roses, while I loved singers like Adele.
But they say opposites attract – and for us, it was true. We were head over heels in love.
In July 2013, Mark got down on one knee during a holiday to Devon and proposed. We picked a wedding venue, planning to tie the knot in 2015, and even chose names for the children we’d have. My heart soared. I had my man back for good.
We excitedly booked another holiday to Devon for the following spring, and Mark was planning to move in with me and the kids. Everything was perfect – I’d never felt happier.
That Friday night in October 2013, I knew I probably wouldn’t hear from Mark. He had planned to meet his friends at the local pub for a few beers and to watch the football on television, while I had to work a busy night shift.
So when I got the call from the policewoman, I asked one of the taxi drivers to give me a lift to the hospital. As we raced there, I thought perhaps Mark had gotten drunk and fallen over. Silly man, I thought. It wasn’t like Mark to get into any trouble.
Only when we got there, the doctor ushered me into a private room, along with a policeman.
‘Mark’s been attacked,’ he said. ‘He has severe swelling on the brain, internal bleeding and has already had a massive heart attack.’
I was stunned. Looking at the doctor’s face, I knew it was really bad.
Mark was unconscious, his chest was covered in tubes and wires, his head in a brace.
I started shaking violently the second I saw him. Those few hours were pure torture.
Mark was in a critical condition, and while the police carried out their investigation into his attack, I anxiously waited with Mark’s parents by his bedside.
Twenty-four hours later, the doctor came back to see us.
‘I’m so sorry,’ he said. ‘Mark is brain-dead. We need to turn off his life-support machine.’
I let out a giant sob.
‘Please,’ I begged. ‘He’ll come around.’
But the doctor shook his head sadly. All we could do is say goodbye. Tears streamed down my face as I bent down to hug him.
My Mark, the love of my life, was gone. His skin was icy cold.
I don’t know how I got through the next few days. Mark’s family helped me to stay strong and we decided to donate his organs, which was some comfort.
But there were so many unanswered questions. Who had done this to him? And why?
I cancelled our upcoming holiday and had to explain to my kids that Mark was gone. It was heartbreaking.
Within days, the police had made arrests. And slowly, a picture was emerging.
They explain that Mark was on his way home from the pub when he was followed by a gang of drunk teenagers.
He had been seen on CCTV walking through a park near his home, when the group approached him. Mark and one of the teenagers, who was aged 17, walked and talked briefly. Then, out of nowhere, the youth punched Mark and knocked him to the ground.
As Mark fell, the boy kept punching and kicking him, even stamping on his head, as Mark lay there defenceless.
Worse still, while Mark was being beaten to death, another teenager – a 15-year-old girl – had been filming the attack on her mobile phone. It was utterly sickening.
She was just a child, so for legal reasons, couldn’t be named. But Mark’s 17-year-old attacker was named as Ryan Sheppard.
Though he wouldn’t say why he had launched such a vicious and savage attack, detectives thought it’s because he had asked Mark for a cigarette, but he refused.
Mark had been attacked and left to die, just streets from home, for no reason. It made my blood boil and made me feel desperately sad.
Six months on, we held Mark’s funeral. Apart from the day we switched off his life support machine, it was the saddest day of my life.
As he was cremated, we played Paradise City by Guns n’ Roses, and Make You Feel My Love by Adele.
He had promised that we could have that song as our first dance at our wedding. Now, that picture of us, happily exchanging vows, was fading fast.
In August 2014 Sheppard was sentenced at Bristol Crown Court to a minimum of 12 years in prison for murdering Mark, while the girl who admitted filming the attack was acquitted of all charges.
She claimed that she had been forced to film the horrific attack. She said she hadn’t wanted to do it, but Sheppard had threatened her.
As I faced my fiance’s killer in court, he could barely meet my gaze. As I read an impact statement out to the courtroom, I felt really nervous. But I wanted that monster to know what he had done, and how I felt.
‘He will always be my one and only,’ I said. ‘Mark was my whole life.’
I wanted Sheppard to know that when he took Mark’s life that night, he took mine too. I’ve struggled without him, but I know Mark would want me to be brave.
Soon after the trial, an engagement card in a shop caught my eye. It read: ‘As every year passes by, in my heart you’ll always stay, ‘cos I’ll love you forever, just like I do today.’
I had the words tattooed onto the left side of my chest, close to my heart, to remember him. It’s exactly how I felt about Mark – I will always love him.
Mark and I were only together a short time, but during that year he made me happier than I ever thought possible. I’ll never understand why I lost him.
Zara lost a piece of her heart the night Mark was killed in a senseless attack and although she’ll never understand why she lost him she wanted to share her story as a tribute to her fiance. We helped her sell her story to Chat and New magazines, reaching a wide readership. If you have a crime story to sell, complete the form here on the right and we’ll call you for a no-obligation chat to explain how it works.