Why child killer murdered sons
DAMIEN Little was said to be a much-loved local.
In Port Lincoln, the 34-year-old South Australian tradie and his wife Melissa were building their dream home to raise their young family.
Sure, they were living in a shed and it was taking longer and costing more than they'd hoped, but to the community of Port Lincoln, nothing seemed amiss.
Until January 4, 2016, when Little packed his boys - Koda, 4, and Hunter, nine months - in the family car, ostensibly for a trip to the local McDonald's.
At the drive-through, he ordered a coffee.
Then he drove to Port Lincoln pier, shot his two sons where they sat in the car, turned the gun on himself, and gunned the car at high speed off the pier and into the ocean.
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He left a grieving wife to pick up the pieces of a life without him and her beloved sons, and a shell-shocked community searching for answers.
What, they wondered, as Melissa and his family spoke fondly of him, drove a respected family man to this?
It's the wrong question, says Australian psychologist and author Helen McGrath.
The real question, she says, is why does the media and community still call men who kill their families "good blokes"?
"They should be seen for what they were - fathers who murdered their own children," she argues.
"There's no justification for what they, and others like them, have done. Let's call them what they are: murderers."
The reality, Dr McGrath argues, is: "Little's children spent their final moments absolutely terrified … as one of the two people closest to them" shot them, then "drove off a Port Lincoln pier to 'finish them off' if they weren't already dead".
"Like many men, he was eulogised as a loving bloke who must have 'cracked'," Dr McGrath writes in a new book.
Mind Behind the Crime, by Dr McGrath and journalist Cheryl Critchley, examines the cases of some of Australia's most horrific killers in a bid to find answers to questions that trouble the public and haunt those who were left behind.
In cases of filicide and familicide, like those of Little, and New South Wales farmer Geoff Hunt, who in 2014 shot dead his wife and three children on the family property in the state's Riverina district, the authors argue "there's no justification for what they have done".
"A lovely guy does not shoot his young daughter in the face as she cowers on a bed [as Hunt did] or do what Damien Little did to his sons, who thought they were just going on a trip to McDonalds," Dr McGrath told news.com.au.
"They say he was such a good father and a good parent … he must have been mentally ill or just cracked."
The book, she states it clearly: "The fact is, most fathers who kill their children do so deliberately and while unaffected by psychosis or any other kind of mental illness.
"They are sane men, who have irrationally decided that, for whatever reason, their children … are better off dead."
Little, like many such killers, Dr McGrath says, could have asked for help. And didn't.
"His family and friends all said although Little had been feeling somewhat depressed, he had refused to seek medical help or counselling because it would make him look weak," the book says.
"The young father was described as a popular, respected member of the local community who should be remembered as such. Little must have been in a terrible amount of pain, they reasoned, to act as he did. But it isn't that simple.
"They're murderers. Nobody should feel sorry for them."
WHY HE DID IT
Dr McGrath says when the sudden killings occur, few say they saw it coming.
"The community reacts with shock, and describes it as completely out of character," she says.
Little was battling depression as "he struggled to keep his young family going".
"He and Melissa were living in a shed while they built their dream home overlooking the water outside town," Dr McGrath writes.
"The project had taken several years already, and there was some concern among others that Little's relationship with Melissa was becoming strained."
But Little didn't seek medical or counselling help and kept his worries to himself.
Until January 4, 2016, when he killed his sons, and himself with them.
"Australians were shocked as footage was aired of Little's car being winched from the sea," the book notes, "not far from where he and Melissa were building their new home".
A memorial which built up at the death scene - flowers, teddy bears, and bottles of Little's favourite scotch - "summed up a shocked community's attempt to come to grips with the unimaginable tragedy inflicted by one of their own," the authors wrote.
Wife Melissa spoke beautifully in the wake of the deaths, describing Damien as a wonderful husband and father who loved his children, and while she was in incredible pain, she still loved her late husband and wanted him to be remembered as a respected and valued family member and community member.
MAKING SENSE OF IT
Dr McGrath says saying someone "wasn't themselves" to rationalise such killings may help people "somehow fathom the unfathomable", but won't stop future family murders happening.
"People say 'he's a good bloke'. They say 'he was a loving father and a good parent' and you're going 'hello - how many loving parents do that'?" she says.
"They say the actions are out of character - because the thought of a parent knowingly taking the life of a child is just too awful to contemplate.
"But that kind of rationale lets them off way too easily.
"The fact is, most who kill their children are sane men who have irrationally decided that, for whatever reason, their children and in some cases their partner as well, are better off dead or do not deserve to live.
"If they killed their neighbour's wife and children, they would be branded vicious mass murderers.
"But for some reason, those who killed their own children often have their actions explained as 'an act of love'. It implies nothing can be done about these killings because they're not predictable or preventable.
"But no amount of pain, or mild to moderate depression, excuses killing those closest to you.
"The perpetrators should be called what they are - murderers.
"These men faced tough situations, but nothing many others don't have to deal with daily.
"They had options. Instead they felt the shame of admitting they couldn't cope was worse than taking lives.
"These were not altruistic cases, they were the ultimate acts of selfishness.
"Unless the public perception of these murderers changes, other will feel that if life gets tough, they too can take this option and be eulogised rather than condemned as they should be."
Mind Behind The Crime: What Makes Australia's worst killers tick? is available now.