MAVERICK CITIZEN 16 DAYS OF ACTIVISM

Jesse Hess: Youth leader, theology student, daughter, sister

By Shani Reddy 25 November 2020
Caption
Jesse takes a selfie while visiting the beach in Cape Town with her father, who says that she loved spending time near the sea. (Photo: Jesse Hess)

The 18-year-old Jesse lived a short life, but her father Lance Hess says she lived more than most people did in a lifetime.

It has been more than a year since 18-year-old Jesse Hess and her grandfather Chris Lategan, 85, were found dead in the family’s Parow flat on 30 August 2019. Lategan was found tied and gagged in the bathroom, while Hess was found naked on her bed with a belt and duct tape around her mouth.

Maverick Citizen spoke to her father, Lance Hess, her stepmother, Audrey Hess, and her pastor, Deon Thòle.

“It feels like I do not want to be here any more. I have lived my life, Jesse did not. I will never see her get married and I will never meet my grandchildren,” says Lance as he sits down to talk about his first child.

Lance describes Jesse as a teenager who was constantly excited about life and everything it had to offer her. Jesse matriculated from Table View High School in 2018, where she was a top achiever and prefect. She went on to pursue theology at the University of the Western Cape, where she continued to excel.

“Her lecturers spoke so highly of her. I remember one that spoke at Jesse’s funeral service. He said that out of 600 students, she was the only one to receive a distinction in her midyear exams,” says Thòle.

He adds that Jesse was the only theology student who would walk around campus with a physical copy of the Bible, while others had it on their phones.

Jesse’s memorial was filled with people who loved her. They all say she was gone too soon. (Poster: Pastor Deon Thòle)

Thòle describes an encounter he had with one of Jesse’s classmates, who had only seen her on campus. “I remember that at the funeral service there was a student who said that what amazed her was not only that she {Jess} would walk around with the Bible, but that in each exam she would always ask for more papers. She said that she would sit there and say, ‘what is it that Jesse knows that I do not know?’ She ended off with saying ‘I want to be like Jesse and ask for more papers, I want to learn from her’. That is the impact Jesse had on the people around her.”

As short as her life may have been, and it was snatched away from us, I must be honest in saying that she lived life to the fullest.

Thòle says that while no one is perfect, anyone that knew Jesse would find it extremely difficult to say a negative word about her.

“As short as her life may have been, and it was snatched away from us, I must be honest in saying that she lived life to the fullest,” says Thòle.

“It is sad and tragic. It is painful because Jesse did not deserve to die. She lived. That is the one thing that will always stand out for me. For anyone that knew her, it was a privilege and an honour to have known somebody like this. She also had such a different accent,” says Thòle.

Lance, beaming, says that she would speak with such class that you would think she was from a university abroad. Lance, Thòle and Audrey break out in laughter as they reminisce and say that she did not sound like she was from here.

“She was never ashamed to speak Afrikaans, but it was hilarious. When she spoke, you thought to yourself, ‘are you for real?’” jokes Thòle.

Lance says that Jesse never felt intimidated to speak – a trait that stood out most in church.

When Jesse was 16, she became a devoted Christian, dedicating her life to the church. Jesse had many dreams. She wanted to be an actress. She wanted to be a journalist. She had dreamed of pursuing her PhD in theology.

“Prior to making up her mind to study theology, those were the fields where she would have made an enormous success. And in fact, her granny could not understand she wanted to study theology until she saw Jesse preach in church,” says Thòle.

Lance Hess says that Jesse loved taking selfies. He says his phone is filled with thousands of pictures she took. (Photo: Jesse Hess)

Lance immediately pulls out his phone, eager to show his daughter giving her first sermon in church. On the video, Jesse walks up to the podium and starts to speak with confidence and the courage of conviction.

“I remember, when she stepped in the church for the first time, everybody was looking at this girl, and at that stage, she was still a part of the school’s drama team. She was so gifted,” says Thòle

Lance says for “some or other reason” her outlook and perspective on life changed and she decided she wanted to draw closer to God. Thòle nodded, adding that she wanted to be more involved in the church and when her drama teacher requested Sunday rehearsals, stepped down from the club.

“It is like the year prior to her passing, she had this urgency to live,” says Thòle.

In 2018, Jesse was determined to attend a church conference in Johannesburg despite her lack of financial resources.

“When she put her name down for the conference, Jesse did not have a cent for the trip, but because of her determination, everything came together and she was able to go,” says Thòle.

It was the first time Jesse had left the Western Cape and the first time she had been on an aeroplane. Jesse was extremely close to her family, especially her younger sister, Tristan.

When we talk about Jesse, she just gets up and walks away. She cannot cope, even now. She does not understand why she cannot go with us to court and ask these men why they killed her sister.

“Do not even get me started on the selfies! Once those two got a hold of Lance’s phone, the clicking never stopped,” says Audrey.

Lance grabs his phone and shows the hundreds of pictures his daughters took together. “There must be at least a thousand on here,” he says.

“Tristan and Jesse would spend so much time together, and they were extremely close with Lance,” says Audrey.

“When we would go out for dinner, if Tristan was not sitting next to Jesse she would sulk. I would have to tell her ‘well then, go sit next to your sister’,” Lance says laughingly.

Audrey recalls that one night, Lance decided to take Jesse on a “date”, to show her how a lady should be treated and to spend time with his daughter.

“She got all dressed up. She loved clothes and especially shoes, something both Jesse and Tristan have in common,” says Audrey.

Ten-year-old Tristan misses her sister, and it shows.

“When we talk about Jesse, she just gets up and walks away. She cannot cope, even now. She does not understand why she cannot go with us to court and ask these men why they killed her sister,” says Lance.

Jesse spent most of her free time with her church group and fellow youth leaders. Here she is pictured in a white shirt and striped pants with a few of her many friends. (Photo: Pastor Deon Thòle)

Since Jesse’s death, Lance and Audrey live in constant fear for Tristan’s safety.

“I do not want to let my daughter play outside. She wants to ride her bike and I am scared. I drive her somewhere else where it may be safer and I let her ride there and play in the park while I watch her. I do not let her go to a park in our area,” Lance says with anger and frustration.

“If I look at the world now, I know that Jesse is in a much better place, but to know that she is not there, it feels so unreal… It is difficult because I struggle to speak about it and it is making me sick,” says Lance.

The tragedy of losing his daughter has also taken a physical toll. “I am often at the doctor. It’s at the stage where I cannot cope at work.”

Lance, who is a delivery driver, says that he often finds himself taking the wrong road on a route that he has been driving for 20 years. 

“I drive past her university every day and I think that I would have had to drive in here now to pick up Jesse. I remember that I would have to sit in the car and phone Jesse, asking her where she is, she would then say ‘I’m there now daddy’,” Lance smiles and his eyes fill with tears as the memories of his daughter overwhelm him. DM/MC 

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