Mother of murdered backpacker's heartbreaking message
IT'S been two years since a young British backpacker was brutally stabbed to death at a Queensland hostel, and a friend who tried to save her paid the same price.
Mia Ayliffe-Chung's death reverberated around the world as the horror of the attack by a French traveller who was fixated on the 20-year-old was exposed.
After the appalling tragedy, Mia's courageous mother Rosie Ayliffe channelled her visceral grief into a campaign to protect other backpackers travelling and working in Australia.
Yesterday, the Derbyshire mother received the news her daughter's killer would never face trial. Smail Ayad, who knifed to death Rosie's only daughter in August 2016, will not face further criminal proceedings after a judge found the 29-year-old was suffering paranoid schizophrenia at the time of the attack.
Today, she shared a gut-wrenching Facebook post about the agony she has suffered since her beloved child died, and why she forgives her killer in spite of that.
I met Rosie several times when she visited Australia over the two years after Mia and Tom Jackson, the 30-year-old fellow Brit who tried to protect her, died from multiple stab wounds at the north Queensland hostel. On some occasions, she seemed broken. At others, she was a force of nature, battling her way through Australia's unfamiliar and opaque systems to throw a lifeline to young backpackers working on remote farms - as a way to remember Mia.
"I had to make my journey here as a mum," Rosie told news.com.au following a visit to Home Hill, where Mia was killed, to plant trees as a memorial and speak with the hostel owners. "I can't bury it, can't bring her back.
"When it's raked over the coals in enough detail, you break down. It has been hard."
"I have to relive it all the time. At least I'm slowly come to terms with it through reliving it. I owe her that."
The former teacher didn't find the answers she wanted at the working hostel in a town nicknamed "Hell Hill", where her daughter was fruit-picking with other travellers after falling in love with Australia. She was merely left with more questions about whether young backpackers were safe and protected, whether the work they were doing was regulated, how Ayad's mental health issues went unnoticed and how much alcohol was consumed in a remote spot with little in the way of entertainment.
Rosie started putting together the pieces of what happened to her beloved daughter. She met the friends Mia had made in the months she spent working at a Gold Coast bar, and she learnt the story of Ayad's disturbing obsession with the young woman, how he dragged her from her bed at around 11.15pm one night and killed her in a violent frenzy in the hostel bathroom.
Rosie learned of how Tom tried to protect Mia before he too was repeatedly stabbed in the head and body. And how another traveller, Dan Richards, held Mia's hand and talked to her until the end. "He's a different person as a consequence, really struggling," said Rosie, after meeting him in Sydney. "He doesn't sleep. It's bad enough trying to recreate it in your mind - he had to be there."
Since then, the grieving mother has focused on helping other backpackers to find safe farm work placements, and petitioning the government to regulate the agricultural work. She set up a website called 88 Days And Counting (the length of time travellers must work to gain a second-year visa), where backpackers can share stories of their positive and negative experiences.
She has been the driving force in exposing a rotten and dangerous system, in which backpackers have endured physical and sexual abuse, serious injury thanks to unsafe working conditions, underpayment or non-payment and mental and emotional torture.
This week, Rosie returned to Australia once more, for one of her worst ordeals since Mia died. She watched Ayad walk into court with his legs chained together, "a broken man", staring at his knees throughout the day.
She heard how her daughter's killer was convinced a cleaner had told him he would be killed and burned in a pizza oven when he checked out, and thought the hostel owner had told him he had to die.
She heard in detail about Mia's horrific death, not from kind friends, but in court. She heard how Ayad jumped headfirst from a first-floor balcony, fracturing his back and neck, before stabbing the hostel owner's dog and then staggering inside to kill Tom Jackson.
After her first day at court, Rosie posted to her many supportive Facebook friends: "Nothing good can come out of tomorrow. It will be heartbreaking, as today was. I can't even process what I learnt today.
"I really try not to post negative stuff but this is awful.
"Love you all, and thank you my wonderful friends, you rock. Having said that I would obviously trade you all in for another day with Mia, but I know you all take that as read!"
After four psychiatrists assessed Ayad, who was initially charged with a raft of offences including two counts of murder, criminal proceedings were stopped. He will be detained in a mental health facility and most likely repatriated to France.
"I know you will be wishing him and his family pain, and anguish and death," Rosie wrote on Facebook today. "I understand those thoughts because there was a moment yesterday when I wanted that too.
"Then I suddenly realised what was happening to me. I was becoming Ayad. I was developing a paranoid, delusional conspiracy theory in my head which was taking me along the path he trod. It was a dark place.
"I stopped, and I reconnected with who I am, and who Mia was."
Rosie and Les read impact statements, in which Tom's father spoke about he recurring nightmares in which his son was being attacked by a knife-wielding martial artist.
"He did exactly the same while we read these, staring at his knees," said Rosie. "Apart from once, when I talked about his realisation of what he had done being a worse punishment for him than anything that could be inflicted on him. At that point he looked at me, and we stared at each other in silence for a count of three. I felt that the fact I refused to vent about hating him had made an impact.
"And that was why I flew half way around the world and went without sleep for five days. In the hope of achieving that connection. It's only through those moments of connection and understanding, when you get a moment of insight into the mind of another being, that change can be initiated."
At the end of proceedings, she sent a message to Ayad's mother offering her contact details if she wanted to talk.
"This is true to Mia, from being a little girl," she wrote. "We both believed that you can only move on to the light through love and forgiveness, and that was the path she tried so hard to tread herself."
Tom's father Les told news.com.au: "The outcome is as we expected it to be and, given the evidence heard in court, the determination that he was of unsound mind is completely understandable.
"Three devastated families would gain nothing by a conclusion that sought to include an element of 'punishment' for the sake of it. It is clear he is unlikely to regain his liberty for a very long time, if at all.
"We have exchanged messages of sympathy and goodwill with his mother - there are no winners (there never could be) from this ultimately very sad and tragic case. For us as a family we hope the conclusion to this process means we can at least now start to move on."