The family of five before tragedy struck. Ralph, Thomas, Stuart, Madeleine and Kathy Kelly. Image: 60 Minutes.
The family of five before tragedy struck. Ralph, Thomas, Stuart, Madeleine and Kathy Kelly. Image: 60 Minutes.

Family's devastation of losing two sons in four years

IT'S coming up to a heartbreaking anniversary for Kathy and Ralph Kelly; a year since they lost their second son Stuart, following the hellish fallout that followed his brother's death by a one-punch attack.

"How do you ever get over losing two children for absolutely nothing?" a tearful Kathy asked Allison Langdon on 60 Minutes tonight.

On a Saturday night in 2012, an intoxicated  Keiren Loveridge emerged out of the dark and felled an unsuspecting Thomas Kelly, 18, with a single blow to the head.

Thomas suffered a traumatic brain injury and died in St Vincent's Hospital two days later.

Despite their palpable grief the Kelly family went on to become tireless crusaders against the senseless violence that can stem from alcohol abuse.

But this was far from the end of tragedy for this close-knit family.

Stuart Kelly was only 14 when life changed irrevocably for him. In a passionate speech that was widely lauded for its bravery, he spoke about losing his beloved older sibling in 2015.

"'Your brother Thomas is in a critical condition and will not survive. I was being told to prepare for his death. Those few words would change our lives forever," he said in the speech that he received a standing ovation for.

"I look back at that moment. I was 14-years-old. I was told by a stranger that my brother, my best friend, was going to die."

Ten months after his speech, he died by suicide. In the early hours of the 25th of July last year, Stuart drove to Sydney's Mona Vale beach. His body was found by police in the car later that morning.

With Ralph and Maddie out searching for the teenager, Kathy was home alone when two police officers came knocking with the worst news possible.

For Ralph and Kathy Kelly, losing two 18-year-old sons, has been an unthinkable catastrophe.

The family believe that Stuart and his sister Madeleine both suffered from a deluge of mean comments made against the family, after the  lockout laws were reviewed in February 2016. They believe that Stuart was targeted following his speech.

"It took its toll in the end, we paid the price very badly for it. Stuart obviously decided, somewhere in his life, that it wasn't the world for him.'

"People saying, "Let's kill the rest of the Kelly dogs off", and things like that. You know, we've never done anything but try to make this world a better place, and safe."

Stuart Kelly’s emotional speech called on then NSW Premier Mike Baird to hold the line on controversial lockout laws. Source: 60 minutes.
Stuart Kelly’s emotional speech called on then NSW Premier Mike Baird to hold the line on controversial lockout laws. Source: 60 minutes.

Following Thomas's death in 2012, the Kellys' were intent on changing things. They joined forces with St John Ambulance and set up safe space shelters that were embossed with Thomas's initials, TK, around Sydney's trouble spots. They were also instrumental in pushing for stricter alcohol laws.

Kathy admitted to Allison Langdon that the family sometimes argues about whether getting involved in the controversial cause has been for the best.

"You know, I'm really proud of all the things that Ralph's achieved, and it's just unbelievable what he has actually achieved in such a short space of time, but often I think, you know, had we just accepted what happened to us in life, and not stepped out into the public eye to bring about change, and change for the better, then maybe Stuart would still be here," said Kathy.

Kathy Kelly says despite grappling with his brother's death, Stuart went on to have a great final year at the Kings School, where he was the captain of the largest boarding house in the school. The family believes things changed for Stuart while he was at the University of Sydney's St Paul's College.

"You know, he was one of the really popular kids, and he went off to university at Sydney, for one night at a college, and he came home a different person the following day. You know, it just changed him, he was broken. I think that… "

Stuart was subjected to hazing rituals at the beginning of his first semester at uni - something many new boarders endure, but Ralph and Kathy fear Stuart was singled out. The new student didn't speak about the rituals with his family.

"He… No. Look, Stuart was a typical boy, I suppose, he just kept a lot of his emotions within, but yeah, no, as Kathy said, he got in the back of our car when we picked him up 18 hours later after spending the night there and something had changed, he'd changed, he got in the car, he just sobbed," said Ralph.

The Kelly family said they were pretty disappointed to think that the College wouldn't even look into what may have happened to Stuart on this fateful evening.

"How can you turn a blind eye? And there has to be a duty of care," said Kathy

Sister Maddie, the only child the couple have left, described her younger brother as such a confident boy, and said his death didn't make sense to her.

"Leading up to that first week where he went to the University of Sydney, he was so excited, all he wanted to do was start and get back into that environment that was like a boarding school, and for him to come out of it, just so upset, it didn't make any sense. And he didn't wanna talk about it, we didn't wanna push him," she said.

Dad Ralph recounted a conversation where Stuart mentioned needing to get away from it all, perhaps to London, but he didn't realise at the time it may have been his son's plea for help.

"Look, if you do, you need to have counselling, we just wanna make sure you're alright now," and he looked at me and said, "Look, you know, do you think I need counselling? I'm fit, I'm strong, I'm educated," you know, and I looked at him and said, "No, you don't," because he was normal…"

Madeleine Kelly is facing life without her two brothers. Image: Supplied.
Madeleine Kelly is facing life without her two brothers. Image: Supplied.

The family now worry about Maddie, who is left to live life without her brothers.

"I mean, I've spoken to mum and dad about that a lot. There is days where I'm not OK, and a lot of my friends have seen that, where you do, when there's so much pain in your life, you really, you question whether it's worth it, but then I understand that mum and dad deserve to see one of their children grow up."

The Kelly's never wanted the limelight. Their role in public life emerged from the realisation that something urgent needed to be done about violence resulting from alcohol, and to ensure Thomas' life was not lost in vain. Following on from Stuart's subsequent death, they have another role to play.

There are eight suicides a day on average in Australia, and it's the most common cause of death among young men.

When the family was approached by the National Rugby League about a commemorative game of football for Stuart, they seized the opportunity to turn a negative into a positive.

In two weeks' time, the Parramatta Eels, Stuart's favourite team, and the West Tigers will both run out at ANZ Stadium with the initials 'SK' on their jerseys. The message is simple 'stay kind'.

Ralph told 60 Minutes that the purpose of the commemorative game is to get a very important message out to young people, and anyone who is feeling lonely and destitute.

'You're not alone if you're suffering from this, you're not a burden on your family, understand that you're loved and that you're an important person in society," said Ralph.

The inspiring dad will be barracking for the Eels in his son's honour at the July 23rd game, despite being a Tiger's fan.

"We're asking as many Australians to come along to watch that day, and lend their support to this awful thing called suicide," he said.

St Paul's College told 60 Minutes they wouldn't be making any comments whilst police continue their investigations.

This article originally appeared on Kidspot and has been republished here with permission.

News Corp Australia

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