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A monster in the dark – How we talked to our preschooler about the murder of Sophie Collombet

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On Friday morning my husband and I decided to take our children to the Cultural Precinct of Southbank, and we Googled our options for parking and activities. Upon settling on GOMA, the northern-most building of the precinct, I checked out the website. And the words Kurilpa Point shouted off the webpage at me. Kuripla Point, the address of the gallery we planned to visit includes Kurilpa Park, where beautiful French student Sophie Collombet’s life was senselessly snatched away from her in a brutal attack two weeks ago.

The previous evening, whilst channel flicking, I came across a news story about the march and candle-lit vigil held to honour Sophie. We don’t usually watch news programs while our children are present, a conscious decision we made when we first started our family. But having had Sophie in my thoughts countless times during the week, I paused to watch, tears welling in my eyes, my four year old son playing on the carpet beside me. When vision of floral tributes surrounding a beautiful photo of Sophie appeared on the screen, he said to me “Mummy, what happened to that lady?”. I was thrown, but managed to gain some level of composure and say “Darling, a very bad man took her away from her family, and now she’s in heaven.” I switched off the TV and hugged my little boy. He continued making his Duplo tower and I started serving dinner. It occurred to me that although we all tell our kids that “monsters aren’t real”, the evening news regularly proves us wrong. I both congratulated myself for being practical and honest in my explanation, and cursed myself for letting him see the news story.

On our way to the gallery the following afternoon, I asked my husband to call in to the local shops where I bought a bunch of pink roses and a love-heart shaped card. I realised that even though I’ve never met Sophie, I, like many other Brisbane residents, was grieving for her loss. The loss of a beautiful, intelligent, vibrant young life, taken away at the hands of a cowardly, opportunistic monster. A family’s precious daughter and sister, gone forever.

We took our family to what’s become Sophie’s memorial, the place she was discovered. It’s a secluded picnic shelter flanked by the river on one side and a factory on the other. Hundreds of floral tributes, cards and gifts were placed there, most by others who never knew Sophie Collombet either. Our two year old played close by, using a stick to whack leaves on a shrub, blissfully unaware of the significance of the flowers. Our four year old placed the roses he was holding down, and asked me why we were there. I told him to remember the lady we’d seen on TV, who was taken away by a bad man. All the flowers and gifts were there to tell her family we’re thinking about them and we’re sad about what happened to her. He nodded, accepting my explanation, and looked around the rotunda for a moment before running to a nearby grassy knoll to join his two year old brother who was now terrorising a crow. I stayed for a moment longer. It was beautiful and so so sad. By the light of day, this place didn’t appear sinister, just a riverside park in our beloved city. Cyclists rode past, groups walked by. But at night this place is dark and desolate. Some have blamed the mass of the river as being the cause of the darkness, others have claimed that lighting is inadequate. You can read more here about this issue.

We stopped on the way back to the gallery to admire the huge indigenous mural painted on the underside of the William Jolly Bridge. Our boys pointed out the turtle, the kangaroo, the snake. My husband crouched into our baby’s pram and talked to her. I stood there in my dark sunglasses and cried for Sophie. It’s just so unfair.

So unfair that she was just going about her daily routine. Coming home to her apartment. Unaware that danger lurked in the darkness in the form of a cruel monster, and that her life was at risk. And just so bloody unfair that her life of travel, study, growth, discovering the world and generally being amazing has been snatched away.

Our city’s still mourning, but in the aftermath, violence in our city is coming under a huge, sweeping spotlight.

Our kids will someday be students, be public transport users, be Brisbane locals, be global citizens. My hope for them is that they have the same enthusiasm for travel, radiance and fearlessness that Sophie Collombet will be remembered for. I pray that in their travels, near and far, they never encounter the darkness that Sophie did.

God bless Sophie.

xo

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