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Real Life

Real life: I lost both my sons to violence

Surely tragedy couldn't strike us twice?

By Laura Masia

Kathy Kelly, 58, Sydney, NSW, shares her horrific true life story;

A bittersweet smile tugged at my lips as I flipped through our family photo albums.
It was so hard to get my two boys Thomas, 17, and Stuart, 13, to smile properly for a picture, especially when we were on holidays.
Our daughter who was in the middle of the two boys, Madeleine ,16, always posed happily with her dad, Ralph, and I.
For our last family holiday, we'd spent two weeks in Hawaii. Madeleine and I relaxed on the beach while the boys played in the surf.
At night, we'd all come together for dinner, laughing as the sun went down. It was magical, I wish we'd captured more of those moments together.
A year later, we were planning on a quiet Saturday night at home in Bowral, NSW, but Thomas had decided he was staying in Sydney.
"I've met this unbelievable girl at work," he beamed, "We're going to a friend's birthday party at Kings Cross in a private room that he's hired for his 18th."
"Glad you're so happy, Tom," Ralph said, giving him a proud hug. She was his first girlfriend; this would be their first official date.
At around 10.25pm, our home phone rang. Ralph was brushing his teeth in the bathroom, so I answered it.
The voice on the other end was muffled. All I heard was Thomas' name.
Confused, I handed the phone to Ralph. The person on the other end was a social worker from St Vincent's Hospital.The colour drained from Ralph's face as he pushed for more details.
"They won't say anything more except that Tom's been in an altercation. We need to drive to the hospital at Darlinghurst straight away," Ralph said.
Stuart (left) and Thomas together in Noosa, Qld. (Image: Supplied)
We left Stuart with Maddie, then set off on the 120km drive to the city.
The car was silent as thoughts raced rapidly through my head.
What's happened to our son?
Ralph's jaw was set, his foot flat against the gas.
When we arrived at the entrance of emergency, two police officers approached us.
"Mr and Mrs Kelly?" they asked.
I felt Ralph's body tense up next to mine. From his reaction, I knew whatever had happened was serious.
We were taken to a private room at the back of emergency.
"Thomas is in surgery. We're trying to relieve the pressure on his brain," the registrar said, "We have to remove a part of his skull, to give the brain more room."
An officer explained Thomas had been randomly coward punched on the street in Kings Cross, Sydney.
He'd fallen backwards, smashing his head on the footpath, the force had thrown his brain to the front of his skull, causing horrific damage.
"I'm afraid he has very little chance of surviving," the neurosurgeon told us gently. "You need to prepare for the worst."
I shook my head, clinging to hope that Thomas would survive.
Ralph and I sat by Tom's bedside all night, holding him tightly with tears pouring down both of our cheeks.
"You can do it Tom, please, please…." I whispered, clutching his hand we begged him to fight to live.
The next morning, the ICU Doctor on duty told us that he was "100% sure that Thomas' brain has died."
Madeleine and Stuart arrived late on Sunday morning. A doctor explained to them both what was happening.
Ralph and I couldn't bring ourselves to tell them that Tom was going to die, for fear of collapsing to the floor in tears.
By Monday, they had planned to turn off Thomas' life support, I was asked about donating Thomas' organs.
Thomas at 17 years old. (Image: Supplied)
Tom had already agreed to do so when he got his driving licence, but I struggled with the reality of it.
Tom was still alive, and this decision felt so final. I couldn't bear the thought of them touching him.
"He could save so many people, Mum," Madeleine pleaded, "Wouldn't you do it if the roles were reversed?"
I nodded slowly. Of course, she was right.
Together, the four of us decided to donate his organs.
That night, the extended family gathered around to say their final goodbyes.
Incredibly, we watched a lone tear roll down his cheek as if he was saying goodbye to us too.
An hour later, Ralph, Madeleine and I gathered around Thomas bed for his final breaths.
Stuart couldn't bring himself to be there, sobbing gently into his aunt's shoulder (Ralph's sister) outside ICU, both of them holding each other lying on a bed in a small darkened room.
The doctor removed the tubes that were keeping Tom alive, turned the off machines, as we rested our hands on Thomas' chest feeling his heart beat, as we continued to (remove – still) beg him to fight.
Thump, thump, thump, it began to slow, then....nothing.
Madeleine collapsed into Ralph's arms, but I was frozen, struggling to process it all.
Thomas's organ donation saved 12 people. I was so proud of him.
That night, the police asked us to speak to the media the following morning, at the Police HQ in Elizabeth Street, appealing for any information on who had recklessly killed Thomas – they had no leads at that time.
Kieran Loveridge, then 18, was arrested 11 days later for the unprovoked coward punch on Tom and four other men that evening, eventually he was convicted of manslaughter by an unlawful and dangerous act.
Thomas loved playing drums. (Image: Supplied)
He was originally sentenced to five years and two months jail, but upon appeal by the Attorney General, the Supreme Court of Criminal Appeal doubled Loveridge's sentence.
It still didn't seem long enough for taking Tom's life.
To prevent this tragedy from happening again, the government implemented new liquor legislation within Sydney's CBD which required bars, pubs and clubs to close their doors to new entrants from 1:30am and serve last drinks at 3am.
The new laws were introduced in February 2014.
Since that time, not a single person has died at St Vincent's Hospital due to a serious brain injury admission from non-domestic violence on the streets of Sydney.
This is where the lockout laws now operate, and violence has significantly diminished.
Unintentionally, we became the face of the lockout laws, the new rules not liked by all. Our family became the targets of relentless bullying.
Five months earlier, Ralph and I launched The Thomas Kelly Youth Foundation, with an initiative called Take Kare, after Tom's initials.
The vision was to ensure all of our children got home safely.
Operating every Friday and Saturday night from 10pm till 4am, teams of volunteers stretch out across the streets of the City, Kings Cross and Darling Harbour to help vulnerable people by reducing violence, sexual assault, self-harm, theft and providing way finding services to tourists who are lost in the city late at night.
To date there have been 70,000 interventions – we call these sliding door moments, the difference between a young person's life continuing as normal or degenerating into something far worse.
Celebrating what would've been Thomas' 21st birthday. (Image: Supplied)
Ralph used it as his outlet for his grief – he needed something positive to focus on, it probably saved his life and although I was involved, my priority was always Madeleine and Stuart.
Three years after Thomas' death, the foundation hosted our second gala dinner.
Stuart, by then 17, was ready to speak to honour his big brother, who was his best mate.
"I carry a deep scar that you cannot see," he said. "It's always there, it never leaves. It sits below the surface of your skin and surfaces when you least expect it."
There wasn't a dry eye in the room. I was so proud of him.
Afterwards, we all tried to move on.
Madeleine studied politics and law at university, while Stuart graduated with his HSC at The Kings School.
He loved the idea of moving somewhere he wouldn't be recognised and associated with the lock out laws.
But he ended up enrolling and boarding at St Paul's College at the University of Sydney.
Ralph and I went to an orientation evening with post-session drinks.
We left by 9pm, leaving the young students to get to know each other.
"I'll be alright!" Stuart promised.
My heart glowed as I Iooked back at him laughing with his friends as we left.
Despite what he'd been through, he'd come a long way.
The next morning, Ralph and I woke to several missed calls from Stuart.
Eventually he got onto Ralph and he said he was okay.
A few hours later that afternoon, he called us again while we were on our way to him to drop off some more clothes.
Stuart speaking at the foundation's gala dinner. (Image: Supplied)
"Can you come and get me" he asked."We're on our way to St Pauls now," I responded.
"I'm not at the college – I'll call you back" he said quickly.
Within minutes we got another call.
"I'm outside the RPA medical centre in Newtown" he said.
"Are you okay?" I asked, now feeling worried."Just come and get me," he responded, hanging up without saying goodbye.
We arrived as quickly as we could. We found Stuart sitting in the gutter in the driveway of the medical centre with his head in his hands.
Stuart climbed in the back seat of the car and sobbed uncontrollably.
"We need to go back and ask the college what happened," I demanded.
"No! I'm not going back!" Stuart exclaimed, refusing to say anything more about it.
He didn't want to talk. He just wanted to go home.
I was desperate for answers, but he was already so fragile...
Maybe later, I thought.
Stuart begged us to withdraw him from the university. We asked him to try just one lecture but after one day on campus, Stuart refused to leave his room.
From that day on, Stuart changed. Our bubbly, outgoing boy was gone, replaced by a reclusive stranger we struggled to recognise.
No matter how we asked him, he never told us what happened that night. Eventually, we decided to let it go. He'd been through enough.
Two months later, a bit of his spark came back.
"I'm ready to do something," he announced to our relief.
He got a part time job at North Shore Private Hospital at St Leonards and coached one of the rugby teams at his old high school.
Stuart begged us to withdraw him from the university. (Image: Supplied)
I think he's coming good, I thought.
A few weeks later, Ralph woke me up early one Monday morning.
"Stu's gone," he said with a shaky voice, "Maybe he's at the gym?"
It wasn't like Stu to work out early, he and Ralph had planned to drive into work together as they always did on a Monday morning.
I was so confused.
"He's taken his doona and pillows, your car is not in the garage," Ralph continued.
We woke Madeleine to see if she knew where he was, but she had no idea.
We were starting to panic.
Stu wasn't answering his phone so by 8:30am, we called a friend from the NSW Homicide Division to report Stuart as a missing person.
We tried to stay positive, but my heart pounded as three police officers arrived soon after at the front door of our apartment in Lindfield.
We'd already had our fair share of tragedy; it couldn't possibly be happening again.
Yet I felt a chilling sense of déjà vu.
Moments later, Madeleine ran upstairs from her bathroom.
"All my medications are missing!" she screamed.
Silently, we stared at each other. Had Stuart taken them?
The police traced his phone to the Northern Beaches area and quickly activated an alert to find him.
I tried to stay calm but inside I was breaking.
How much more could one family take?
Madeleine and Ralph separately joined the search in two cars.
They were still searching for Stuart when the police arrived back at our home, a couple of hours later.
I was on my own when they approached me whilst collecting a package from the postman downstairs.
"We've found him," one said quietly, looking grim.
We'd already had our fair share of tragedy; it couldn't possibly be happening again. (Image: Supplied)
They explained officers had discovered Stuart lying on the back seat of my car, with his head on his pillow and his doona covering him - he had made himself a little bed to slip away in.
They smashed the windows to get to him, but it was too late, there was nothing they could do.
Instead of collapsing into a hysterical heap, I kept asking questions and knew I needed them to call Ralph.
How could we have been so blind to his suffering?
"I'm an only child now," Madeleine sobbed into Ralph's chest when they heard the news by telephone when the police called Ralph, not knowing that Stuart was only a kilometre from where they were both standing.
All of us were heartbroken - as was the rest of Australia. We received an outpouring of messages of support.
Looking back, there were signs Stuart was depressed from whatever happened to him that night at the college. He had withdrawn and was not himself.
We will never recover from the unimaginable pain of losing two children, but we've also experienced tremendous kindness.
This year, we rebranded our foundation to "Stay Kind", after Stuart's initials.
We're encouraging people to reach out to show kindness and compassion to one another.
If we had kindness in the world both Tom and Stu would still be alive today.
If we had kindness in the world both Tom and Stu would still be alive today. (Image: Supplied)
With 25 Million Australians, if we all did one act of kindness every day that would equate to 9.1 Billion acts of kindness a year – imagine what a great country Australia would be!
Ralph and I have also written a book called Too Soon, Too Late.
We hope our story encourages parents to check in with their kids, look out for signs of depression but most importantly, always be kind and non-judgmental to others.
Madeleine's happiness and to find some joy ourselves, is absolutely everything to us now.
There's not a single day I don't think about Tom and Stu.
I was lucky enough to spend 18 amazing years with them both – the good times and memories that can never be taken away from me.
I know that if Tom had not been hit that night by a total stranger, (remove – that) our family would still be whole today. We would still be a family of five.
Kathy asks all of us to make a pledge of kindness on the Foundation's web site, Stay Kind.
If you, or someone you know is struggling to cope you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit the website here.

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