Lismore murder-suicide: Anguish and anger over two-year-old’s tragic death

Headshot of Sarah Blake
Sarah Blake
The Nightly
The scene of the heartbreaking tragedy.
The scene of the heartbreaking tragedy. Credit: 7NEWS

It started as a press conference to trumpet a Statewide police crackdown on domestic violence and concluded with the grim confirmation that yet another mum had been robbed of her baby by a man.

The unfolding tragedy in northern NSW, where a father killed his two-year-old son in a suspected murder-suicide on Sunday evening, served as a brutal full-stop to an update from police leadership on Monday morning.

While police had charged 554 of the State’s worst domestic violence offenders in a four-day, door-busting blitz under Operation Amarok, they weren’t able to help when they arrived at a property in College St, East Lismore, on Sunday night.

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Alerted at 5.30pm by the toddler’s mother when her only child wasn’t returned from an access visit with the ex she feared enough to have taken out an apprehended violence order against, officers arrived at the father’s home at 9.45pm to discover an appalling scene.

NSW Deputy Police Commissioner Peter Thurtell did not wish to reveal exactly how the little boy was killed.

It’s hard to say if the full facts would be more chilling than the stark horror his sanitised description evokes.

“The father has created a system where both he and the child had passed away as a result of the system he set up,” he said.

“A more tragic event you wouldn’t come across.”

Asked if police had found the scene confronting, Mr Thurtell was pragmatic.

“Any of these issues are difficult for the police but they are well trained. Our welfare systems in place look after our officers,” he said.

“Our focus should be on the poor mother who has lost a child.”

The 38-year-old father had been the subject of a domestic violence order, Mr Thurtell said.

The mother did not have any other children and the family lived locally.

“He was known to police for previous DV matters but not significant issues,” he said.

“My understanding is that the male had an access visit on the day.

“The mother raised concerns with the fact that they were due to hand over the child at 4.30 and by 5.30 she had contacted the police and we went around to the residence and made the discovery.”

Neighbours outside the modest brick apartment building where the father had recently moved on Monday described the little boy as “shy”.

NSW Police Minister Yasmin Catley said the officers who had arrived at the scene were confronted with a terrible circumstance.

“To go to a presentation of an incident like yesterday’s, it is unfathomable for me,” she said.

“We know that they see, we know what they do and we are so thankful for the work that the NSW Police do.”

A woman called Lucy told the ABC that the boy had wanted to play with her cat.

“When they first moved in they saw my cat and they came around and were playing with him ... he was a bit shy, the boy, but he just wanted to play with my cat,” she said.

News of the tragedy came on the same day NSW Police announced the hundreds of arrests under Operation Amarok, which they carry out every few months. The announcement was accompanied by footage of the arrests including heavily armed officers smashing down doors.

“Operations like Amarok, that we have just been discussing, are just one tool that the New South Wales police has for addressing domestic violence,” Mr Thurtell said.

“We do target individuals as well for compliance with their ADVOs, plus the courts impose strict conditions.

“If we can get them in jail, we will get them in jail.”

On the back of a series of horrific crimes against women, Australia is finally having a serious conversation about domestic violence with State and Federal leaders racing to announce more resourcing to combat what is indeed a national crisis.

This has taken the shape of a Federal boost of funding for victim housing and to help women leave violent partners, including a $5000 one-off payment.

In NSW, Premier Chris Minns vowed to strengthen bail laws after the death of Forbes mum Molly Ticehurst, allegedly at the hands of an ex who was on bail for facing charges of stalking and raping her.

But the true scope of the challenge is laid bare by the numbers, which Ms Catley on Monday repeated as she talked about the State’s domestic violence registry.

“It is the only one of its kind in this country,” she said.

“It is world-class, and it is bringing together the intelligence around domestic violence perpetrators that we see in his State. It profiles those high-risk offenders, and that therefore enables the NSW Police to have that intelligence.

“Last year, police had 150,000 phone calls of domestic violence-related incidents. 150,000 — I’ll say that, again. It’s staggering.”

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