Mariam Makhniashvili’s funeral

The funeral for Mariam Makhniashvili has taken place — a public ceremony on Friday, and a private one yesterday. Although she wasn’t a Charley Project case because she disappeared in Canada, I did follow it to a certain extent and blogged about her in my March 11 entry “Final Leaps.”

Mariam’s disappearance (now presumed to be a suicide, although not officially ruled as such) tore her family apart. Literally. Some months after she vanished, her father, Vakhtang, snapped under the pressure of it all and stabbed a guy whom he accused of being involved in Mariam’s disappearance. A sympathetic couple, strangers to the Makhniashvili family, bailed Vakhtang out of jail. He later stabbed one of them too. Of course this violent behavior lead to speculation that Vakhtang had also harmed his daughter. He pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and was sentenced to six years in prison. He isn’t dead, of course, but at least until he gets out of prison the family has to all intents been reduced by half: now it’s just Mariam’s younger brother, George Makhniashvili, and their mother, Lela Tabidze.

Vakhtang has reportedly behaved well in prison, but he was not allowed leave from prison to attend his daughter’s funeral. The decision was “partially based on Mr. Makhniashvili’s court-ordered psychiatric assessment.” He has a “delusional disorder” and I guess they think he’s (still) dangerous.

I can understand the authorities not wanting to take a risk with Vakhtang, but it’s still a shame that he couldn’t attend. The Makhniashvilis are immigrants from the Republic of Georgia and I don’t think they have any relatives in Ontario. They had been living in Canada for only three months. Mariam was shy, had no friends, spoke no English, and had attended school for all of four days by the time of her disappearance. Of course some of the teachers and students from her school showed up at the funeral and said nice things — the principal called Mariam “a wonderful student, a person who was highly introspective and highly sensitive and very intuitive” — but let’s face it, they didn’t know her.

In a sense, every grieving person is alone in their sorrow, but Lela Tabidze and George Makhniashvili must feel especially alone, surrounded by all these kind well-wishers, but no one who actually knew Mariam and could share memories of her childhood, her personality, all that she was.

Final leaps

I was in the library today and, as always, stopped to have a look at their display of new books. One caught my eye: The Final Leap: Suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge by John Bateson. Being a connoisseur of Incredibly Depressing Books, of course I had to check it out. I haven’t started it yet — I’m in the middle of two books right now — but it looks very interesting.

Charley has quite a few presumed Golden Gate Bridge suicides, as I recorded here. Less than a month ago I added Allison Bayliss, a fifteen-year-old high school sophomore who jumped last May. The prologue of Bateson’s book talks about Casey Joanna Brooks, a high school senior who jumped in 2008 (and is still classified as a “runaway juvenile” on the California Department of Justice missing persons database in spite of my calling them to tell them this was both inaccurate and insensitive).

Another reason for bridge jumpers to be on my mind: the tragic recovery of Mariam Makhniashvili from Toronto. A recent immigrant from the Republic of Georgia who didn’t speak English, she vanished without a trace in 2009. The cops suspected foul play and her father has since been imprisoned for stabbing a guy whom he accused of being involved in Mariam’s disappearance, then stabbing the couple who bailed him out of jail in the first incident.

Then someone stumbled across Mariam’s body under an overpass, just outside the search grid. She’d been missing for two and a half years. The cops think she took her own life, although it’s possible her death was an accident. We’ll never know for sure.

Det. Sergeant Dan Nealon, lead detective in Mariam’s case, said the teen’s family never indicated the girl was depressed or anxious — but “in retrospect,” she kept to herself in the months before her 2009 disappearance.

Investigators “could assume that it was a result of isolation or depression,” he said, adding that she also could have been struggling with cultural barriers.

Rest in peace, Mariam.

Several Canadian cases

As I noted, the twentieth anniversary of Michael Dunahee‘s disappearance. Well, in honor of that, a Canadian news site has run an article about Michael and several other missing children from Canada.

The other kids mentioned are Tania Murrell (age 6, missing from Alberta since 1983), Courtney Struble (age 13, missing from Saskatchewan since 2004), and Mariam Makhniashvili (age 17, missing from Ontario since 2009).

I wish I could profile Canadian cases on Charley. But I really don’t have the time. Mariam’s case seems quite intriguing, from the headlines I’ve seen about it. She was a recent immigrant from the nation of Georgia (home of Joseph Stalin, born Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili, gotta love those Georgian names) and I don’t think she spoke English well. She was also supposed to be really shy, hadn’t made any friends yet in Canada and wasn’t the type to run away. I wonder if human traffickers got her.