Inexplicable. Shocking. Inconceivable.
When a parent kills their child, the same adjectives are used again and again.
When Arthur Freeman threw his four-year-old daughter Darcey off Melbourne's Westgate Bridge in 2009, the grief and shock was immediate and widespread. His actions were described as “inexplicable” in the press.
In sentencing Mr Freeman to life in prison more than two years after that January day, Justice Paul Coghlan seemingly summed it up when he said, “You brought the broader community into this case in a way that has been rarely, if ever, seen before. It offends our collective conscience.”
The murder of two-year-old Brad Lees by his father, Jason, earlier this week has brought the issue of filicide - parents who kill their children - back into the community consciousness.
With investigations ongoing into the Lees case, authorities are yet to reveal what happened in the moments leading up to the deaths.
But researchers hope that by looking at the past, they can help influence the future.
An average of 27 children are killed by their parents each year in Australia.
Between July 1997 and June 2008, according to the Australian Institute of Criminology's National Homicide Monitoring Program, 291 children, in 239 incidents, were victims of filicide.
Approximately 90 per cent of the 291 children were killed by one parent [For the purposes of the study, a step-parent was considered a parent]
Seventeen per cent of the filicides also involved the suicide of the parent. In simpler numbers, 24 mothers and 16 fathers killed themselves after the murder their child.
To Dr Debbie Kirkwood, a researcher at the Domestic Violence Resource Centre in Victoria, and others who work in the family violence sector, the deaths of these children are not “inexplicable”.
But they do warrant further research, an attempt at further understanding, so children at risk can be more easily identified.
Dr Kirkwood recently completed a study into filicide in the context of parents who were going through a separation.
Her findings are not absolute, as she says a more complete data breakdown is needed.
The statistics do not distinguish between children who were killed unintentionally, by neglect or malnourishment for example, and those who were killed with deliberate intent. There is also no stand-alone data on how many children were killed in context of their parents' relationship situation.
But by studying in detail the cases of eight men and seven women who killed their children, while also reviewing international articles on the subject, Dr Kirkwood was able to draw several conclusions.
The research showed women were almost as likely as men to commit filicide, with fathers responsible for the deaths of 140 children and women 127 children, over that 11-year period. [The remainder were killed by both parents.]
But their motives were markedly different.
“In some cases the primary motive was their own suicide and they killed their child as a part of that,” Dr Kirkwood said.
“They didn't want to leave the child or children behind, or worried about the distress, or didn't believe they would be as loved or cared for without them.
“We found that sort of suicide was more commonly perpetrated by mothers, but not always.”
In September 2005, former nurse Donna Fitchett killed her two children and then attempted to kill herself, following the breakdown of her relationship with her husband David.
Although unsuccessful in her own suicide attempt, Ms Fitchett had left a note to her husband where she explained her reasoning.
“I didn't do it because I'm angry with you. I forgive you for whatever hurt you caused me. You can't help it. I just couldn't abandon our beautiful boys.”
The death of children under the hand of their father often, but not always, had a markedly different motive, Dr Kirkwood said.
“In other circumstances, the primary motive was to kill the child, as a way to get back at their ex-partner and we found that it was men who were more likely to kill their child or children for revenge. The primary motive was to get back at the mother,” she said.
Perhaps the most extreme example of that behaviour was shown by Ramazan Acar in late 2010.
On November 17, Mr Acar posted a message on his Facebook page; “Bout 2 kill ma kid”.
He later posted “Pay bk u slut”.
When he wrote those messages, Mr Acar had not yet killed his two-year-old daughter Yazmina, and his later phone calls to her mother, his on-and-off-again partner of eight years, Rachelle, were heard by police.
Mr Acar told Rachelle “I'm going to kill her” and while Rachelle begged him to return their daughter to her, Mr Acar replied “do you have any last words for her?”
Yazmina told her mother she loved her. Rachelle sobbed and told her she loved her too.
Mr Acar hung up.
He later called back to say he had killed Yazmina and said “I killed her to get back at you. I don't care. Even if I go behind bars, I know that you are suffering.”
Mr Acar pleaded guilty to stabbing Yazmina multiple times and was sentenced to life in prison.
His actions were extreme but not the only example of “revenge” behaviour researchers have uncovered in relation to filicide.
Robert Farquharson is appealing his life sentence for the murder of his three children in 2005.
Farquharson was found guilty of deliberately drowning his three sons aged 2-10 years old, by driving his car into a dam.
A long time friend of Farquharson, Greg King, gave evidence about a conversation he had been part of where Farquharson said he planned on making his ex-wife suffer.
The marriage between Robert and Cindy Farquharson had broken down in 2004 and later Cindy began a relationship with a new man, which friends said Farquharson did not take well.
Mr King said Farquharson had told him: “I'll take away the most important thing that means to her”… "something like Father's Day, so everybody would remember it when it was Father's Day and I was the last one to have them for the last time, not her. Then every Father's Day she would suffer for the rest of her life.”
The court at Freeman's trial heard he had rung his ex-wife Peta while he had Darcey and her older brother in the car and told her “just say goodbye….you'll never see them again”.
In sentencing Freeman, Justice Coghlan said “I have no doubt your resentment you bore your [former] wife had been building up for some time.”
Dr Kirkwood said these cases and others she had examined, pointed to a need to examine the relationship between the father and the mother.
“One thing we saw in many cases we looked at was there was anger towards the partner in relation to separation,” Dr Kirkwood said.
“There was a desire to have revenge against them, an intention to harm them.
“We also saw prior violence towards the mother or a history of controlling behaviour towards her. Not in every case, but enough to take notice.
“Currently there is an assumption that if there is conflict between the parents or violence directed to the mother only, we assume the children are not at risk of harm.
“We shouldn't assume. In a lot of these cases there had been no previous history of violence towards the child. But we need to examine the relationship between the parents.”
While Family Court decisions are often criticised as contributing to distress, Dr Kirkwood's research found, in many cases, the parent had access to their children.
While horrific, 27 deaths a year is a small number of the children who go through the Family Courts or have parents who separate, making it difficult to pinpoint those children who are in danger of falling victim to their parents.
However Dr Kirkwood said she found “warning signs” in the lead up to the murders.
“In many of the cases I looked at they had been thinking about what they were going to do for some time before and in many circumstances, they had told somebody,” Dr Kirkwood said.
“On top of this there had been previous suicide attempts or attempts or threats to harm the children.
“There were some clear indicators in the cases I looked at, but in hindsight. The problem is we don't really know what to look for before something like this, which is why more research is needed.”
Dr Kirkwood said more research could only help to “shine a brighter light” on a subject often left in the dark.
“Everyone in the community gets very distraught and people struggle for a way to understand,” she said.
“These cases are often shrouded in mystery and we need to start looking at them in more detail to try and identify patterns, to find those indicators.
“Often the media reports in these cases where men kill their children, that they were a loving dad, a good man and that people are 'shocked' with what has happened. That they never saw it coming.
“But people don't ever really know what is going on within families and from the outside, it is very easy to make everything look fine.
“We can't definitively say that it is like this in every single case and that is not what I am saying.
"Often though, it takes a very long time, if ever, for details to come out, for motivations to become clear.
“What we do need to do though, is start to look more deeply at these cases, to try and identify and then improve our responses to at-risk children.”
* Support is available for anyone who may be distressed by calling Lifeline 131 114, Mensline 1300 789 978, Kids Helpline 1800 551 800, SANE Australia 1800 18 SANE (7263) (Monday to Friday 9am-5pm).