'a lot of pain' | 

Sister of alleged Cork murder victim Bruna Fonseca reveals family's regrets

Izabel Fonseca opens up about her grief as she visits spot where her sister died

Izabel Fonseca in Liberty Street, Cork, where her sister Bruna was found in a flat on New Year's Day. Picture by Gerry Mooney.

Izabel Fonseca and husband Francisco Rosa at St Francis Church in Liberty Street, Cork. Picture by Gerry Mooney

Bruna Fonseca in a family photo

Bruna Fonseca, left, in a family photo

Bruna Fonseca, second right at back in black dress, in a family photo

Rodney EdwardsSunday Independent

‘I wish I had done more to help you,” Izabel Fonseca says, running a hand through the dark hair of her late sister Bruna who lies in a coffin at a funeral home in Co Cork. “I wish I was here with you. I would never have wanted you to have gone through all of this alone.”

There are candles behind the dark wooden coffin where the body of the 28-year-old lies. She is dressed in black, her hair combed to one side. She died a violent death on New Year’s Day, but there is calm in this place.

There are no flowers. Her photograph is not on display. There are no queues of mourners to shake hands with the family. This is not a wake, but a meeting point — Izabel’s and her sister’s.

Izabel travelled 11,000km to be by her side in that room in Ballincollig, on the west side of the city “to believe that she was really dead”. It’s one more stop before taking Bruna back home to Formiga in Minas Gerais, Brazil, where she will be buried next to their grandparents.

Bruna Fonseca in a family photo

“I am sorry I could not protect you,” she says. “And now, at this moment, I feel like you are protecting us. This is just your body, your soul is already with people we love and are gone.”

She strokes Bruna’s hair and face once more. Only now does her death seem real, she admits. For over two weeks, she refused to believe it.

“The emotion is very strong because I never expected to see my younger sister in this place. I feel her cold body in front of me knowing that there is a girl, a woman, who has always been a light on the path of those she crossed.

“This is a place of peace, but it is not easy to see her and not be able to feel her embrace.”

Izabel landed at Cork Airport the night before — a long journey from Brazil via Barcelona and Paris — and says that on that last flight to Ireland, she felt a lot of sadness.

“I knew it was getting closer and it brought a lot of pain. It was becoming more real.”

As soon as she arrived in Cork, the locals welcomed her with open arms. Now, she says, she cannot understand “how after something so bad there can be so much love”.

“People are opening their hearts to us,” Izabel says. We walk to the scene where Bruna’s body was found in a flat. It is Izabel’s first time here. Bouquets of flowers are piled outside the door. There are red, white and pink roses nestled among photographs of Bruna and candles. Even though it is raining, three of the 63 candles still burn.

“I feel pain knowing that she died here; it moves me,” she cries, “I feel the love that people had for Bruna.” She touches a picture of her sister.

It’s a busy street: there’s a pub nearby and in front of it a mural with iconic images of the War of Independence.

Izabel struggles with herself “to feel guilt-free”.

“I should have been here with her. That will remain in my memory. I should have said: ‘I’ll bring you home.’ I wanted to be here, but not like this.”

Izabel Fonseca and husband Francisco Rosa at St Francis Church in Liberty Street, Cork. Picture by Gerry Mooney

Bruna’s final hours pass constantly in her mind. Her sister was celebrating the new year with a group of Brazilians at the Oyster Tavern in the city hours before she was killed.

It was on the same day the sisters had their last text exchange over WhatsApp.

“She was the typical little sister and didn’t want to listen to me. She used to ignore my advice and get upset.

“She wanted to see the good in everyone she met. We had a fight on New Year’s Eve and when I called her later that night she didn’t answer; she was ignoring me.”

Izabel shows me the text messages she sent Bruna that night. “Everything I did was to protect you,” one of these reads. “You are in my heart forever.”

I ask what she would say to her sister now if she could: “I would say: ‘Bruna, please text me back. Please get in touch. Let me hear from you... please get back to me.’”

She cries again.

At around 6.30am on January 1, gardaí received a call from a man about a disturbance inside the flat. There they found Bruna unconscious on a bed. They attempted CPR in a bid to resuscitate her, as did paramedics who arrived shortly after, but were unsuccessful.

The qualified librarian who studied English and worked as a cleaner at Mercy University Hospital, a short walk from where Izabel now stands, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Miller Pacheco (29), who is also a Brazilian national, has been charged with the murder of his former partner.

Bruna’s cousin Marcella, who lives nearby, had to break the news to her family at home — a memory she has now “blocked out of her head”.

“The pain is very great,” Izabel says, “but I remember getting everyone together to tell them, including our mother Marina, who has a heart problem. I was worried about how she would take the news, they were very close. She did not take it well and was taken to hospital.”​

Bruna Fonseca, left, in a family photo

Bruna had a passion for travelling and moved to Ireland last year, Izabel says, “so she could give our mother a better life”.

When she talks about Bruna she smiles. She describes her sister as “beautiful inside and out” — a person who “hated any kind of prejudice and was always helpful in everything we asked of her”.

“She knew how to solve everything and when I say everything, I mean everything. She always felt obligated to care. She took care of everyone and most of the time she forgot about herself,” Izabel says.

Comforting Izabel is her 18-year-old daughter Maria, who had been staying with Bruna. She says the last fortnight has been “the worst time of my life” and recalls the last moment she saw her aunt alive — at a party on New Year’s Eve.

“A few hours before she died, we were together. At the end of the night, we hugged and said goodbye. But I didn’t know it was our last farewell.”

The torment hurts her too. “I’m not coping very well with her death; I am on medication.”

Maria went home that night and hours later, after charging her mobile phone, she heard about the tragedy.

“The garda was outside the apartment where she died. I was losing my mind. I was trying to get inside to get to her. I wanted to be there. I wanted to go in,” she says.

It is difficult for her family to comprehend what has happened when they are thousands of kilometres away from home, though she says everyone from the gardaí to the undertaker and all those who organised vigils in Cork “hugged our family and helped us get through this”.

Last Thursday, Bruna’s coffin was placed in the back of a black hearse and taken to Dublin Airport to be flown back to Brazil.

Izabel, too, will return home this weekend.

She accepts that for the time being she does not know “how we are going to live without Bruna”.

“As time goes by, we will have to learn to live with the pain of loss, with the days of deep longing, but we will live for her, for her dreams. She will be missed in pictures and family gatherings but she will always be with us in our hearts,” she says.

Izabel stares at a photograph of Bruna on her phone and shares with me the last text message Izabel sent her after she was found dead.

It reads: “You are gone. You have now become a star, the fairest of us. How I miss you and with sadness I will live because of that goodbye that I could not give.”

But it is a different conversation — one of the last she had with Bruna — that haunts her the most, when her sister, trying to alleviate her concerns, said: “Do not worry, Izabel, I will be fine.”

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