Who Was Nurse in Royal Prank Tragedy?


Jacintha Saldanha (Photo Credit: London Metropolitan Police)

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By Harmeet Singh and Laura Smith-Spark, CNN

LONDON (CNN) — Jacintha Saldanha should never have become a household name. But within a few hours of her apparent suicide after being duped by a radio prank call, the nurse’s name was in headlines around the world.

Her husband and two teenage children have said little, overwhelmed by the shocking death of a wife and mother thrust suddenly into the public eye.

An inquest that may shed more light on the reasons for her apparent decision to take her own life early Friday, three days after taking the fateful call from two Australian DJs, is expected to open Thursday.

In the meantime, a picture is starting to emerge of a generous, caring woman who was caught up in a media maelstrom.

The 46-year-old nurse moved to the UK from India a decade ago, and for the past four years, she had worked in the London hospital where Prince William’s wife was being treated for acute morning sickness.

British lawmaker Keith Vaz, who accompanied Saldanha’s husband, Benedict Barboza, and their children, Lisha and Junal, on a visit to the hospital living quarters where she was found dead, said they were devastated by the loss of “a loving mother and a loving wife.”

With the family standing, looking shell-shocked, beside him, he added: “This is a close family. They are devastated by what has happened. They miss her every moment of every day, but they are really grateful to the support of the British public and to the public overseas.”

UK media reports have quoted an online testimonial for her driving instructor in which Saldanha apparently described herself as “a very nervous person.”

But for her classmates and colleagues back home in India, she was a deeply religious, benevolent and bold young woman.

“Jacintha was loving and caring,” recalled the Rev. Sister Aileen Mathias, chief nursing officer at the Father Muller Medical College in the southern Indian city of Mangalore.

Both trained at the institution’s nursing school in the 1980s. Mathias still remembers her night shifts with Saldanha, who was a year her senior.

“She would share her bread, coffee and sweets with the patients,” Mathias said as she reminisced about her time with her old friend.

Saldanha, at that time single, was a nursing student from 1984 to 1988 and said to be a devout Catholic.

“She was very religious. She will pray for the patients. Both of us will pray together for the patients,” Mathias said.

Last year, Saldanha visited her alma mater and donated money for the needy receiving treatment at the hospital, the nursing chief said. “Jacintha was a generous person. She would help patients whenever she was here.”

A condolence message posted on the website of Mangalore’s Father Muller Charitable Institutions described the late mother of two as a “dedicated and caring nurse.”

But Mathias also recollected Saldanha’s lighter side. “She was a forward-looking girl. And she was very humorous. We cracked jokes. It was fun being together.”

Her friends have also not forgotten her diligence in her studies.

“Jacintha was pretty studious. She would often score as much as 75% or even more (in exams). And she was an active participant in several activities of the college,” Mathias said.

Nathalia Martis, 46, was in Saldanha’s class. She cannot believe that her classmate committed suicide.

“I was shocked to hear that. She was not that type who would do that,” she said.

Now a staff nurse herself at the Father Muller Hospital, Martis remembers Saldanha as a “bold girl.”

“She was very good, polite, but a very bold girl. She was always ready to face any kind of a situation,” Martis said of her friend.

She praised Saldanha for her “leading capacity.” Martis wouldn’t elaborate, though, saying she doesn’t remember specific incidents from more than 25 years ago.

But she found Saldanha to be a decisive woman. “She was a good decision-maker … I mean she will take quick decisions during problems,” Martis said.

A family acquaintance, Ivan D’Souza, also considered her a “confident” person.

“She was a student here at Father Muller. She was a confident girl. And that’s what her teachers also tell us about her. She would not normally make mistakes,” he said on the phone from Mangalore. “We are not able to digest the news about her death.”

Others back in Britain also praised her as a professional and caring person.

Lord Glenarthur, chairman of the private King Edward VII’s Hospital where she worked, described her as “a first-class nurse who cared diligently for hundreds of patients.”

For now, D’Souza said, Saldanha’s family is in her birth place, waiting for her body to arrive. “We should get it as soon as possible,” he said.

The decision on when to fly her remains back to India is one for the family to make, London’s Metropolitan Police said.

So far, their most public expressions of grief have been made via Facebook.

Barboza, Saldanha’s husband, wrote over the weekend: “I am devastated with the tragic loss of my beloved wife Jacintha in tragic circumstances. She will be laid to rest in Shirva, India.”

Saldanha’s daughter, whose Facebook page is headed by a photo of herself with her mother and brother, wrote: “I miss you, I loveeee you. (Heart) Jacintha saldanha.”

— CNN’s Harmeet Singh reported from New Delhi; and Laura Smith-Spark wrote from London.

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