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SA grapples with wharf tragedy

Damien and Melissa Little and their sons in a photo provided by police.
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Playful photos showing Port Lincoln man Damien Little holding his sons line the memorial where he drove them off a wharf.

As family members raised beers in their memory and told of Mr Little’s struggle with mental health issues, friends spoke of an “everyday Australian bloke”.

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Wife Melissa said she wanted people to remember him as a “well-respected” and “valued” part of the Eyre Peninsula town.

“Damien was my childhood sweetheart who became my loving husband. He was also a father who loved his two children very much,” she said.

But the broader Australian community appears torn between sensitivity to mental illness and anger at a heinous crime.

On Monday, the 34-year-old had done the unthinkable. He had driven off Port Lincoln’s main wharf and into 30m of water, killing himself and his two sons, 10-month-old Hunter and four-year-old Koda.

A rifle was found with the car and it was later revealed Mr Little and his children suffered gunshot wounds before entering the water.

Immediately after the incident, South Australian Commissioner for Victims’ Rights Michael O’Connell urged people not to rush to blame Mr Little, even those who might find murder by a parent to be among the “cruellest of tragedies”.

“As people seek to come to terms with what has happened, they should be careful not to victim-blame,” he said.

“We do not know the reasons Damien did what he appears to have done and speculating helps neither the family nor the people of Port Lincoln.”

At the same time others who knew him said he was respected and well liked.

“He and his brother used to pop out for a beer. He was just a normal, everyday Australian bloke,” one acquaintance said.

The public condemnation of those and similar comments was swift, with many arguing Mr Little had been wrongfully portrayed as a victim.

The Mental Illness Fellowship of Australia was also taken aback by the outpouring of tributes.

“I think when you kill two of your children, you sort of give up the right for sympathy for your own plight,” executive director David Meldrum said.

“If this had been a different situation and he’d still been alive, vigilante mobs would have been hunting him down. But now he’s dead there’s a lot of sympathy for him.”

Mr Meldrum’s views were also echoed by many on social media, with some people deploring any suggestion Mr Little should be shown the slightest bit of sympathy.

Equally, others pointed out that details of the man’s private life were yet to be revealed – including the full extent of his mental health issues.

His family offered some insights into the inner demons he had battled for about three years, telling of his changed personality and his inability to seek treatment.

“We tried to help him, we all did. But you can’t help somebody who can’t help himself,” his mother Sue said.

For people looking on, Mr Meldrum said the case might boil down to “was this mad or was it bad?”.

“It sounds like it was a bit of both.”


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