Ann O'Neill's children were shot and killed while they lay next to her in bed at the hands of their father, who then tried to kill her.
Ann O'Neill's children were shot and killed while they lay next to her in bed at the hands of their father, who then tried to kill her.

‘I would’ve invited death if it knocked’

If anyone knows the pain Olga Edwards was feeling before she took her life, it's Ann O'Neill.

She too was robbed of her beloved, innocent children by a violent and angry former partner, who chose to murder his own flesh and blood in a sick act of revenge.

The news of Ms Edwards' death, five months after Jack, 15, and Jennifer, 13, were shot and killed in the family's Sydney home by their father John, has sparked an outpouring of grief.

"I was deeply saddened to hear of Olga's passing," Ms O'Neill said.

"It's heartbreaking that her basic rights, to be safe, loved and belong, were so cruelly denied."

Late on a winter's evening in 1994, Ms O'Neill was asleep in her bed with her six-year-old son Kyle and daughter Latisha, just four, when her estranged husband Norm broke in.

He shot and killed each of the children, tried to murder her, and then turned the gun on himself.

"When my children were deprived the right to life by their father, I grappled with my new reality without my beloved babies," Ms O'Neill said.

"I can certainly relate to the heartache of being without your children, as so many can especially during this time of year. It's a long and lonely road that thankfully not many people understand as intimately as I and some others do."

Ann O'Neill is an Our Watch Ambassador and founder of angelhands.
Ann O'Neill is an Our Watch Ambassador and founder of angelhands.

Over the past few months, Ms Edwards was said to have taken to sleeping in her late children's beds and refused to leave the house where they had died.

In the end, she perished beneath the wait of an unimaginable grief having spoken of a total sense of hopelessness.

Her death raises questions about how the community can better support women who experience violence, particularly involving their children, Ms O'Neill said.

 

Jack, 15, and Jennifer, 13, were brutally murdered by their father John in July. Yesterday, the body of their distraught mother Olga Edwards was found in the family’s home.
Jack, 15, and Jennifer, 13, were brutally murdered by their father John in July. Yesterday, the body of their distraught mother Olga Edwards was found in the family’s home.

"It's important that we start by being present wherever possible," she said.

"We have to meet people's basic, practical needs first and in doing that we'll be able to make them feel safe and like they belong.

All too often with such confronting experiences, people will shy away and feel uncomfortable where as you can always start by saying: 'I'm not sure what to say but that I'm here and let's find a way together.'"

In the wake of her own tragedy, Ms O'Neill battled incredibly dark moments that she wondered how to escape.

As she told kidspot.com.au in a 2016 profile, she grappled with the fact her precious children had been ripped away from her.

"There were points in my journey where I would have invited death in if it knocked on my door, but I certainly wasn't sending it an invitation," Ms O'Neill said.

"It would have been so much easier if I had been gone."

She eventually found meaning in sharing her experience with others and connecting with those who have experienced trauma.

"One of the ways I found meaning again, was to start trauma victims' support group angelhands and become an ambassador for Our Watch to help people to recover after such extreme trauma and help prevent it wherever possible," she said.

But like many who devote their lives to ending domestic violence, she feels a sense of anger and frustration that innocent women and children continue to die.

Kyle and Latisha's senseless murders at the hand of their father were preventible, as were Ms O'Neill's horrific injuries, including an amputated leg from the bullet wound.

But more than two decades after her life was torn apart, the same sort of headlines still regularly bring horrific news of yet another act of family violence.

"We need to start by focusing on the way in which we talk about these issues and the messages we give to children and young people in relation to gender and healthy relationships." she said.

"We know unequivocally from the research that when a man kills his partner, the primary issue is not family circumstances or stress, it is family violence, and gender inequality is the key driver of this kind of violence."

 

Ann O'Neill became determined to live after her children were shot and killed, and has devoted her life to ending domestic violence.
Ann O'Neill became determined to live after her children were shot and killed, and has devoted her life to ending domestic violence.

 

Research shows the majority of men who murder their children carefully planned their crimes and had a history of abusing women.

Ms O'Neill said those men don't "just snap and are not otherwise good blokes".

"There is an urgent need for the public to challenge our culture that normalises and excuses male violence, for example reports that suggest circumstances somehow blame the victim or excuse the perpetrator's actions," she said.

"Addressing gender inequality will take generations, and that's why Our Watch's work in schools, sporting clubs, workplaces, newsrooms and with young people is critical to be able to change the attitudes and beliefs that disrespect and devalue women before they turn into something much more sinister."

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au or in an emergency, call 000

For more information about a service in your state or local area download the DAISY App in the App Store or Google Play

If this story has raised issues of concern for you or someone you know, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit lifeline.org.au


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