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Dad Tried to Kill Us’: The Devastating Fire That Shook Australia

The night returns in shattered fragments for Eve: the explosive shattering of glass, the frantic call to police, and the sight of tiny, shivering bodies emerging from flames. Sitting in her living room in Western Sydney, Eve's hand shakes as she pieces together the events. Through her blinds, she can see the charred remains of her neighbor's house, now a crime scene plastered across Australia's national news.

What transpired in the early hours of Sunday morning on this quiet street is hard to reconcile. A fire claimed the lives of three children, including a 5-month-old baby girl, and left four more hospitalized alongside their mother. The shock deepened with a stunning allegation: the father of these children had inflicted this horror, blocking their attempts to escape.

New South Wales Police are investigating the Lalor Park house fire as a domestic violence-related multiple homicide. The state's premier has stated that the 28-year-old father could face "the most serious charges on offer." This case has sparked mass outrage in a country already grappling with a "national crisis" of domestic and family violence, where research indicates a child dies at the hands of a parent nearly every fortnight.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has announced a series of reforms and funding to combat this scourge but admitted on Tuesday, in response to a string of alleged killings this week, that the country "has a long way to go" to turn the tide. "Again, we have seen lives stolen, futures torn away. Every death is its own universe of devastation," he said.

A Deep Wound

Eve, who has requested her name be changed for safety reasons, still struggles to come to terms with what happened. "We feel ashamed, we didn’t know there was a baby inside," she told the BBC, bursting into tears as she began recounting the timeline of the fire. She blames herself for not noticing the inferno sooner and not calling emergency services fast enough. Yet, her actions were both brave and significant.

Alerted by another neighbor, Jarrod Hawkins, Eve and her husband were drawn into the unfolding violence. Hawkins had been woken by a "loud pop" shortly before 01:00 local time (15:00 GMT). Initially concerned that his car was being broken into, he went outside and immediately saw the flames. Without hesitation, he ran across the road and tried to break down the door.

In the chaotic moments that followed, Hawkins repeatedly crawled into the burning house, rescuing three children: two young boys aged four and seven, and a nine-year-old girl. An 11-year-old was later rescued by police, along with two boys aged two and six, who were found in critical condition but died shortly afterward in the hospital.

Hawkins then woke Eve and her family, who called the authorities. Eve’s husband attempted to extinguish the blaze with a fire extinguisher, while Eve helped usher the children away from the scene, doing her best to calm them and keep them warm in the freezing night air. One of the boys, in a daze, said at one point, "He tried to kill me." This sentiment was echoed by several other survivors: "Dad tried to kill us."

A particularly haunting moment for Eve was when the four-year-old boy who escaped kept asking if his toys would be safe inside the charred remains of his home. As emergency services took control, Eve witnessed the police carrying the father out, who was in his underwear. She soon learned that the 5-month-old girl had died before rescuers could reach her.

Speaking to the media later that Sunday morning, Detective Superintendent Danny Doherty alleged that the children's father had tried to prevent "police, responders, and neighbors" from entering the burning house, intending to keep the children inside. "At this stage, it does appear the 28-year-old is responsible for multiple deaths of young lives that have been tragically taken away," Doherty added.

Community in Mourning

Now, a makeshift memorial lies on Freeman Street, with colorful flowers and cards offering messages of support starkly contrasting with police tape and a forensics tent. The community remembers the children as "lively," "outgoing," and "polite." "They were known to a lot of people - those kids were unreal, great manners… full of energy, just typical kids," Hawkins told ABC News. Another neighbor simply said, "They were happy."

As masked investigators sift through the wreckage, an elderly resident watches, unable to speak through his tears about his memories of the family. Premier Chris Minns has described the tragedy as a "deep wound" that will be widely felt. "These children deserved a loving home with safety and security - instead, they're gone," he said, promising that those who remain would receive the necessary support.

Determined to End Violence

Filicide, the intentional killing of a child by a parent, is the second most common form of domestic homicide in Australia. Most cases involve a history of child abuse, intimate partner violence, or both. In response, state and federal governments have begun investing in prevention, early intervention, bolstering crisis response networks, and supporting families in recovery. The latest budget allocated A$1 billion (£526m; $673m) towards these goals.

"My government is determined to end this violence. Together, we can make this change. We must," Prime Minister Albanese said, highlighting a commitment to build 720 emergency safe houses by 2027 to accommodate women and children fleeing abuse. However, critics argue that this measure is insufficient. "This will accommodate at most a mere 3% of women and children seeking housing. Moreover, waiting three years for these facilities to be built is cold comfort to women and children being killed by family and domestic violence now," said Larissa Waters, the Senate leader for the Australian Greens.

A Community Grieving

The four children and their mother who survived the tragic events at Lalor Park are in stable condition, while the father remains in an induced coma under police guard. On Tuesday, authorities closed off the street to allow the 29-year-old woman a few quiet moments to grieve privately. Dressed in black, with a hospital band visible on her wrist, she picked up cards and floral tributes, supported by loved ones.

As Australia grapples with the fallout of this devastating event, the nation faces a sobering reminder of the pervasive issue of domestic violence and the urgent need for comprehensive solutions to protect its most vulnerable citizens.

July 10, 2024 3:28 p.m. 383

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