Losing a child is a parent’s worst nightmare. On December 28, 2003, this nightmare became a reality for Mary and Graham Storrie when their daughter Rosie May, aged 10, was murdered at a friend’s Christmas party. In the years that have passed since her tragic death, the Storrie family, although battling through the pain of losing their daughter, have found the “determination to do something extraordinary”.
They set up the Rosie May Foundation, which has grown from a family-run charity to an international one which helps children, especially girls, in crisis. As what would have been Rosie May’s 30th birthday on May 9 passed, the Storrie family vowed to continue to honour her memory by helping girls around the world.
After all, Rosie May’s mantra was girl power, so what a fitting tribute to her.
Who was Rosie May?
Rosie May Storrie was born on May 9, 1993, and lived with her family in Bottesford.
She was the “typical 10-year-old girl”, her mother said, who loved spending time with her friends and her family.
Her passion, and what most say was her calling, was dance.
Mary said: “She spent a lot of time dancing. I would say she could dance before she could walk.
“She loved dancing so much, and people would say when she was on stage they would be drawn towards her.”
Two days before Rosie May died, she appeared in her first pantomime, performing in Dick Whittington in Newark.
Rosie May’s “zest for life” made her “fearless”.
Her “adventurous” spirit meant she was very good at daring activities, including skiing and snorkelling, an activity she enjoyed on a family holiday to Florida.
Mary added: “She was always willing to have a go at anything.
“She also had a very caring nature as well. She liked to look after children and animals.
“She was the kind of child that would always look out for the other child who may not be as confident as she was.”
What happened to Rosie May?
On December 28, 2003, Mary and Graham attended a Christmas party hosted by friends in nearby Normanton.
While they chatted with guests, 10-year-old Rosie May was suffocated in a bedroom upstairs by Paul Smith, then aged 17.
It was Graham who discovered Rosie May unconscious in the bedroom.
Mary, who was a trained nurse, administered mouth-to-mouth to her daughter to try and make her regain consciousness.
She was then sent to Grantham Hospital and later transferred to the intensive care unit at Sheffield Hospital.
Sadly, she died two days later.
Smith, who has Asperger’s syndrome, was sent to Nottingham Crown Court for a three-week trial.
He was an apprentice electrician and was described in court as the “odd kid” in school.
He denied murder but was found guilty and sentenced to a life sentence with a minimum of 14 years to serve.
As reported at the time, High Court judge Mr Justice Astill, who sentenced Smith, said he had made a “determined attack upon this young child”.
He also said that Smith was a “considerable danger to young girls” following previous incidents reported against him.
These included threatening a 16-year-old with an air rifle and putting her in the boot of a car, and also attacking a 12-year-old girl.
These incidents were never put before a court as neither victim brought charges.
Smith’s parents, Nigel and Susan, said at the time that they were “deeply upset and shocked” by the verdict. They also said their son was “selected as the easy target” as he was “vulnerable”.
In 2014, Smith went to the Court of Appeal, but the appeal was refused.
Another parole hearing was due to take place in December 2022, but this was adjourned.
Tragedy turned into something positive
In 2004, two months after the trial was concluded and in the month that marked a year since Rosie May’s death, Mary and Graham, alongside their two sons, took a family holiday to South East Asia.
The Storrie family decided to spend Christmas there as the festive period was one of Rosie May’s “favourite times of the year” and it was “too painful” to be back home, said Mary.
On Christmas Day, to honour their beloved daughter and sister, the family planted a palm tree.
At around 7.58am on Boxing Day, the day after they had planted the tree, an earthquake with a magnitude of 9.1 to 9.3 on the Richter scale struck the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia.
The Storrie family stood on the shore of the Indian Ocean as a tsunami hit.
They at first “painted it as a wave rather than a surge”, said Mary.
She added: “We didn’t actually realise what it was because I had never heard of one before.
“Then a lot of the staff on the island started getting calls to say it was a tsunami and then we knew what it was.
“Luckily, where we were there wasn’t as much devastation.”
The tsunami, which had waves up to 30 metres high, killed at least 230,000 people.
The family went to check on the palm tree they planted the previous day, thinking this could not withstand the natural disaster, thought to be one of the worst in history.
However, there the tree stood upright, just as they had planted it, with debris floating around it.
Mary added: “We found the little palm tree after all of the devastation happened and it stood there perfect.
“She [Rosie May] kept us safe.”
From the family’s personal tragedy, Mary and her family set out to make the lives of young girls better, and so the Rosie May Foundation was born.
After the Boxing Day tsunami, Graham was told by a colleague that a doctor in Galle, one of the areas worst hit, was hoping to build an orphanage for children affected by the disaster.
Feeling that they wanted to do something, Graham and Mary met with Dr Asoka Jayasena in Sri Lanka, and then formed a partnership with the People in Need Foundation to raise money in the UK to build the orphanage.
One year later building began and on December 28, 2008, five years after Rosie May died, the Rosie May Home was officially opened.
From there, the Rosie May Foundation has gone on leaps and bounds to help girls and families in need.
“Initially it was about the girls whose parents were killed [in the tsunami]”, said Mary.
She added: “Over time, we started to explore why these girls were there.”
Through research, the foundation found that the main reason children were put into orphanages was because of economic reasons.
Mary said: “A lot of these children are wanted, they are not abandoned.
“It was because of economic reasons that single parent mums couldn’t afford to care for their child.”
From this, they then established Project Hope, a community outreach program that aims to get to the “grassroots of the problem” and aims to prevent single parents getting to this stage.
“So, we started an economic empowerment programme for women to be able to earn an income and prevent children going into care”, she added.
As part of this programme, in 2016 they established pink tuks tuks in Sri Lanka. These allowed women to earn an income by transporting people.
The introduction of the tuk tuks is Mary’s proudest moment as “it’s so unique”, she said.
She added: “It’s breaking into barriers, gender and cultural barriers.
“It’s a very tangible concept, because people can donate and fundraise to help other women and girls, but it’s [the tuk tuk] is right there in front of their eyes.
“I would say it’s our biggest achievement.”
These tuk tuks were then brought to Nottingham in 2022 as a pilot of a female-only taxi scheme, just like the one in Sri Lanka.
Mary said: “We are working to put more women into the driving seat.
“It is a community of female drivers, providing self-support, as well as extra training and mentoring.
“They can support each other through friendship.”
Celebrating Rosie May’s legacy
On May 9, 2023, Rosie May would have turned 30 years old. In her memory, global tea parties were hosted.
The idea of the tea parties was to contain elements of things Rosie May loved, including serving cake and decorating things in the colour pink.
These were to “celebrate her legacy”, said Mary.
To date, 51 tea parties have been hosted all around the world, with the first being in the USA. Others have included Canada, Sri Lanka, Australia, Scotland and various places in the UK.
The tea parties have also been tied in with the launch of the foundation’s first children book, entitled Rosie the Little Pink Tuk Tuk.
“It’s the story of the women in Sri Lanka through the eyes of Rosie the Little Pink Tuk Tuk,” said Mary.
“It tells the story of what we do. We’re going into schools and showing children because when you go and talk about the charity and Sri Lanka with children, it’s quite difficult for them to comprehend.
“The book aims to create empathy and empowerment.”
The book is available to buy on Amazon at https://amzn.eu/d/2XnhyjZ
People are still invited to hold a tea party to celebrate Rosie May.
‘I think she’d be really proud of what we’ve done’
Since it was first established, the foundation has raised over £2.5 million and it is “ever-growing”, said Mary.
“It’s hard to measure how many children and families the foundation has helped.
“It’s that whole ripple effect that is immeasurable.”
From initially working with girls in Sri Lanka, the foundation has grown to help those of all ages in different communities.
Mary added: “It’s not just the women and children in Sri Lanka, it’s the elderly people in our local community, it’s the volunteers, it’s the fundraisers, it touches so many people.
“Some days I have to pinch myself and kind of stop and look at the enormity of the impact we’ve made and the scale of the charity now.
“I think she’d [Rosie May] be really proud of what we’ve done.”