Bullies give Lismore a bad name
The suicide of 14-year-old Kadina High student Alex Wildman because of bullying has been followed by claims his grieving and emotionally broken family were then harassed so badly by a group of thugs in Lismore they were forced to flee to Sydney.
The fallout from the national publicity has tagged Lismore as an uncaring community and cast a stain over its youth.
Lismore mayor Jenny Dowell said she was dismayed by the allegation and the bleak shadow it cast over her city.
Now the subject of a NSW coronial investigation, the death of Year 9 student Alex Wildman in July is still raw within the school community, and the tragedy is under further scrutiny following the allegations his stepfather, mother and siblings were subjected to an ongoing onslaught of harassment and violent threats at their home on Ballina Road – so bad that they felt their life here had became unbearable and they had no choice but to leave.
Cr Dowell said she would not want Lismore youth to be branded as callous.
“My deep confidence is that the youth here are wonderful young people,” she said.
“I wouldn’t want to brand all of them thoughtless or callous from what could be the actions of a small minority. It is deeply regrettable if people have taken this action. It is a police matter and I put my faith in the police to investigate these allegations thoroughly.
“It is not appropriate to just deny what (they said) happened.
“I am split between the town I love and understanding a family’s deep grief.
“Anyone who is a parent can only imagine how torn apart this family is. I deeply regret if Lismore is painted as a town that was not supporting a family undergoing a deep trauma.”
Yesterday, Alex’s grandfather, Les Osborne, said the family did not blame Lismore for their problems and that they had enjoyed their life here until Alex’s death.
The family moved to the region this year.
With the NSW Coroner’s Court not expected to make its report until next year, Mr Osborne said there were still questions to be answered. He said a lot of parents whose children attended Kadina visited his daughter, Justine, after Alex’s death.
“As a result of his death there was a lot of goodwill within the community,” Mr Osborne said. “They did make a lot of good friends there. The only problem was with the school. It (bullying) definitely was a big problem.”
Mr Osborne described his grandson as ‘a top kid’ with a good nature who loved soccer and who made friends with a lot of people, and enjoyed riding his pushbike and dirt bike.
“He should have enjoyed life (but) there was one group making his life difficult,” he said.
Asked if Alex was bullied over the Internet or only at school, Mr Osborne said he could not answer that question because of the coronial investigation.
Asked if the case reflected badly on Lismore or the school, Mr Osborne said it would all ‘come out in the wash’.
Mr Osborne backed claims from his daughter and son-in-law to the Sydney media they were driven out of town by a group of people. Their publicised claims stated thugs began driving past the family home at Goonellabah in October threatening to ‘burn, bash and kill’ people in the house. The family knew who the abusers were.
“They loved Lismore,” Mr Osborne said. “They didn’t want to leave.”
Today the house stands empty with an overgrown front lawn.
A next door neighbour said he was ‘very surprised’ at the allegations because his family had heard nothing of thealleged abuse.
The Ballina-based lawyer for the family, Vince Boss, from Dakin Law, confirmed yesterday the issues of intimidation claimed by the family ‘are relevant’.
“The information given is of very real concern,” Mr Boss said.
Following his plea for people to come forward with information concerning bullying, Mr Boss said he had received information from across NSW, not only related to Alex’s case, which his firm was assessing.
The matter is next due for mention in the NSW Coroner’s Court in late January.
Support is available for anyone who may be distressed by calling SANE Helpline 1800 18 7263; Lifeline 131 114; Salvo Crisis Line - 9331 2000; beyondblue 1300 22 46 36.
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