Dingli tragedy – Police looking into last messages

Police investigators handed last messages left by the teenager and a 23-year-old supply teacher who is still undergoing intensive care at Mater Dei Hospital.

Staff Reporter
26 March 2014, 10:25am
Erin Tanti
Erin Tanti
The police investigation into the death of 15-year-old Lisa Maria Zahra is focusing on two notes, believed to be the last messages left by the teenager and a 23-year-old supply teacher who is still undergoing intensive care at Mater Dei Hospital.

Zahra and Erin Tanti were found on Wednesday, 19 March in an area called Ta’ Zuta, at Dingli Cliffs, after they had been first reported missing to the police.

Zahra was found dead, believed to be from injuries incurred in a fall, while Tanti suffered extensive injuries incurred in a fall at a spot that was some distance away from where Zahra was found.

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MaltaToday was told by two police sources connected to the investigation that both Zahra, a pupil of the St Michael’s Foundation, and Tanti, a supply teacher of drama, each left a message to their loved ones.

This newspaper is not aware of the contents of these messages.

But new facts have emerged of the picture that preceded the tragic fall.

The first missing person’s report was filed at the police station at Valletta, by Tanti’s sister. Tanti was at the time acting in the play Festen, adapted to the stage by the Masquerade theatre company.

Police have also established which pharmacy in Valletta Tanti is believed to have purchased a substantial amount of aspirin tablets.

Zahra’s family have also said that it was Tanti who drove his car to Dingli, with Zahra as his passenger.

In the whereabouts of Dingli, police say they found a bottle of whisky in Tanti’s car that suggests the two drank and took aspirin before the tragic incident.

The two persons were found on Wednesday 19 March, after Tanti – who survived the fall because it may have been interrupted – managed to alert passers-by to his predicament. He was found to be suffering from serious injuries, and sent to Mater Dei’s ITU where he was in critical condition.

Education minister Evarist Bartolo has said that the Council for the Teaching Profession, the body tasked with investigating complaints of misconduct by teachers, was “obliged” to investigate Tanti over any alleged breach of ethics over his relationship with the 15-year-old pupil.

“Upon the conclusion of the police investigation, the Council for the Teaching Profession not only has the right but also the duty to investigate any complaint of gross negligence or breach of ethics," Bartolo told MaltaToday on the case.

Tanti, who was pursuing a theatre studies degree at the University of Malta until 2013, had been a drama tutor for the Masquerade theatre company since 2012, and was recently drafted in as a supply teacher at the St Michael’s Foundation, a private school, having worked there for the past three months.

The teachers’ code of ethics, established by the Council for the Teaching Profession, says teachers are duty-bound and responsible to maintain a professional distance while in school and out of school.

It also calls on teachers to avoid any inappropriate communication and relationships with students. Moreover, teachers are bound to ‘have regard to the safety of students under their responsibility’.

The funeral of 15-year-old Lisa Maria Zahra, which was expected to be held Saturday in Valletta, was postponed on a magistrate’s order.

The court decided to postpone the funeral to ensure that all investigations are concluded before her burial.

The Zahra family claims that Tanti drove the teeanger to Dingli, and have been emphatic about the teacher’s negligence of his duties towards the vulnerable teenager. “The cruel reality is that Lisa Maria Zahra was a vulnerable minor at the age of 15, and Erin Tanti is a 23-year-old teacher with the relevant responsibilities that come with this role,” the family said.

“The tragic situation that developed after Tanti drove Lisa Maria to Dingli is one which is still subject to ongoing police investigations and prudence in any commentary, as well as the family’s privacy in these difficult moments, should be respected at this time.”

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