Smithereens. That is what they blew her into. There was a huge explosion followed by a large fireball that engulfed the car she was driving and sent it flying across the road into a nearby field, killing her almost instantly. She had just left from home, never to return.

The resulting fear and panic of that afternoon shattered the calm and tranquillity of the rural village where she had lived for many years. Officers called to the scene found her son running in circles around the inferno searching for a way to drag his mother out of the burning wreckage. They watched helplessly as the young man screamed desperately for help.

Her detached limbs lay randomly scattered amidst the debris across the field and the brutal reality of what had just happened finally sank in. Fate had decided the course for Daphne Caruana Galizia. Malta’s best-known investigative journalist had been assassinated, and there was nothing anyone could do for her any more. In recent history, this island had never witnessed such a spectacular execution.

The site of the murder today. Photo credit: Daiva Repečkaitė / Eve

The news spread like the proverbial wildfire, even as the mangled car and its driver still lay burning in that field, leaving everyone in stunned disbelief and still scrambling to respond. By the evening, this tiny nation had made the rounds in world news.

Daphne was no ordinary woman. Her writings had a profound influence on all her readers, and she attracted a massive following equal to none on a local level. In recent years, she single-handedly kept the political class constantly on its toes. And once she got her teeth into a story she wouldn’t let it go. It’s no wonder that she was regarded as a permanent thorn in the side by those persons who would become the target of her criticism.

Her style was controversial, indeed. Suffice it to say an article she penned celebrating a former prime minister’s demise caused a public uproar. One year on, she is still portrayed as a divisive figure by her detractors, and the air fills to the sound of axes grinding every time her name is mentioned. Her supporters, on the other hand, give much credence to what she wrote and denounce the political interference they believe is obstructing the administration of justice by protecting the mastermind behind her murder. They continue the fight she began for the aspirations of many fellow Maltese to live in a society that elects a government expecting it to be fully democratic and entirely accountable in the execution of its duties and to fiercely uphold the core principles of the European Union among which tolerance, justice, solidarity, freedom of speech and pluralism.

In the end, however, her mighty pen, analytically incisive and relentlessly scathing, incurred the wrath of cold-blooded brutes against whom she would not stand a chance. By its very nature, the elimination of a journalist is designed to strike at the heart of a nation’s democratic values. When the flames from the wreckage eventually died out, this nation’s pulse was still pounding in fear – the independent press that refused to be muzzled had just received a dire warning.