As published in Semper Floreat.
When the battered body of Sophie Collombet was found in Kurilpa Park on the 28th of March, her death sent shockwaves throughout the Brisbane community. Two weeks later, as darkness gathers in King George Square, so do the crowds; clutching candles and flowers, heads bowed, over 2 000 people come together to honour the Frenchwoman’s memory, and to mourn a life taken so young.
Sophie Collombet was a much-loved student at Griffith University. Born in France, simply learning English as a foreign language wasn’t enough for the 21 year old – she wanted to live the language, and so she travelled to Brisbane to speak it every day. On Wednesday the 27th of March, at approximately 9pm, Sophie began her walk home from the Southbank Cultural Centre bus stop to her CBD apartment. She was attacked in Kurilpa Park, and found there the next morning.
As candlelight flickers across the faces of those gathered, it’s clear how deeply Sophie’s murder has affected the city. Mothers and fathers, young and old, students and professionals, all stand in silent respect as Neils Kraaier, president of the Postgraduate Student Association at Griffith University, addresses the masses before him.
Describing Sophie as ‘the personification of joie de vivre’ – the joy of living – Mr Kraaier recalls how she ‘roared with laughter’ at a screening of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and in turn, made them roar also.
“Well, that was in October,” Mr Kraaier laments, “Six months later, and the laughter is gone.”
Standing among the grieving crowd, remembering that same laughter, are Elizabeth Itsikson, 21, and Maddie Miller, 22, classmates of Sophie’s wishing to pay their respects. Agreeing that Sophie was truly a ‘beautiful person’, they are both hoping to find some closure from the vigil.
“I feel like this definitely will help with what’s happened, and it’s definitely a good way for me, and everyone else who knew her, to put our minds at ease.” Ms Itsikson said.
“I was actually at the Cultural Centre when it happened,” Ms Miller reflects, “The guy himself was right next to my work a couple of hours before when I was there.”
For Sophie’s friends and family, and indeed, other members of the Brisbane community, closure may also come in knowing her killer has been found, and is currently locked safely behind bars. Peter Martin, Assistant Commissioner in charge of the investigation into Sophie Collombet’s brutal homicide, expressed his satisfaction in the swift apprehension of 25-year-old Benjamin Milward charged with her murder.
“We’ve been very pleased that we could actually bring a resolution to this, and within a very short timeframe,” the Assistant Commissioner said at the vigil.
“There was a lot of hard work done by detectives associated with [Sophie’s case], and ultimately, to put an offender before the court is very pleasing.”
Surrounded by a multitude of candles left in the place where Sophie’s body was found, UQU Gender and Sexuality Officer and joint organiser of the vigil, Lotte Scheel, says that she hopes the large turnout of supporters give some sort of comfort to Sophie’s family in France.
“People in Brisbane do care, and [we want] to let her family know that people in Brisbane want to show their love and support,” Ms Scheel said, adding her own candle to the already substantial pool of light.
“We just want to let them know that people in Brisbane aren’t okay with this violence against young women.”
In addition to the extensive array of candles, a number of notes and placards have been left at the memorial spot. One reads, ‘Angel, I never knew you but I will never forget,’ while another, signed from ‘a Brisbane mother’ calls for more police on the streets at night. Nestled amongst the dozens of flower bouquets lies an especially memorable placard designed by UQ students Katharine Peters and Samara Marinelli, both 24, stating simply ‘Vous Resterez À Jamais Dans Nos Coeurs’- ‘You will remain forever in our hearts’.
With so many gestures and symbols of support left in honour of Sophie Collombet’s memory in Kurilpa Park, it will be a long time before she is forgotten.
Rest in peace Sophie.