Helping first responders cope with child murders
NSW Ambulance chaplain Malcolm York attended the West Pennant Hills shootings where John Edwards shot dead his two children, Jack and Jennifer, before taking his own life. Mr York reveals how he helped the first responders deal with the horrific tragedy.
As a minister with the Anglican Church Malcolm York was already a man of strong faith.
And on a terrible night in 2018 that faith would be tested after he was called to a double murder in Sydney's north west.
Mr York is a volunteer chaplain with NSW Ambulance Service. It isn't a job he gets paid for - it's one that gives him much more.
"It can be confronting and it can be hard at times," Mr York told The Night Watch.
"But often people who are going through that hardship just need someone to talk to.
"So in that situation that I come into, I can be there to talk with people and to listen."
It was about 6pm and Mr York had just finished eating dinner with his wife and four children when his mobile phone rang.
LISTEN: NSW Ambulance Chaplain Malcolm York attended the West Pennant Hills shootings where John Edwards shot dead his two children, Jack and Jennifer, before taking his own life. He tells The Night Watch what happened next.
It was the NSW Ambulance control centre. He was the closest chaplain to an incident unfolding in West Pennant Hills and they wanted to know if he could go.
"And so I said yes," he recalled.
All he was told was it involved children and it was felt a chaplain would be needed.
"Being a father with my own children, I thought this is something that could have a big impact on those who have been to the job," he said.
"I didn't know a huge amount about it when I was told to go, but I thought 'yep, this is something I should do' … and off I went."
As he arrived at the quiet suburban street, Mr York was struck by how bright and busy it was.
"It's really interesting arriving at a scene at night time because you've got the bright lights and they're really bright and they're flashing … you've got police who've cordoned off the area," he adds.
A police command centre had already been set up, there were multiple ambulance and police crews and a host of TV cameras.
"And so I could tell it was a big, big event. A big, big, big incident," he says.
And soon his worst fears would be confirmed.
Inside the suburban home were the two bodies of siblings Jack and Jennifer Edwards.
Outside their distraught mother Olga Edwards was speaking with detectives.
"Seeing the mother at the scene, it is hard to imagine what she was going through and I think for myself I couldn't imagine it," Mr York said.
"It's not an easy thing to see someone in the raw moments of grief, in the raw moments of shock. She was crying, she was on the phone yelling, she was talking with a police officer really intensely.
"She was wanting to get answers and wanting to find out what happened and who was responsible. I think she thought it was something to do with her ex-husband."
Paramedics were determined to try to protect Ms Edwards by not letting her into the crime scene.
"The paramedics did a really wonderful job of not exposing her to the scene, which would have been extremely confronting to her," Mr York said.
"I then turned my attention towards the paramedics to make sure that they were going okay because they had seen on the scene. I hope I never have to go through what she went through. It would have been horrible."
Mr York went to the ambulance station with the crews later that night to help them with their debrief.
"At the end of the debriefing, one of the paramedics said when I turned up, they were a bit unsure why a chaplain was needed," Mr York says.
"But by the end of the night, they were so thankful that I was there because she was able to talk through some things. And so that was good."
Mr York went home soon after and straight into the arms of his wife and children.
"First thing I did was give my wife a big hug and a kiss and then ran to find all my four children and give them a big hug and kiss and tell them how much I love them," he adds.
Fears Jack and Jennifer were killed by their estranged father John Edwards were soon confirmed, with Mr York learning of it via the media the next morning.
Edwards, who was able to buy a gun despite being knocked-back by multiple gun clubs, would take his own life the following day.
"You know your parents are meant to be those who love and care for you … I feel in some ways he (Edwards) got off pretty easy," Mr York admits.
"But I'm thankful that there is that judgment day. And I also believe in a very compassionate and loving God who my hope and pray is that those kids will be looked after by him as well."
Five months later, Mr York was driving in his car when he learned via the radio Olga Edwards had tragically taken her own life.
"Her last few months on this earth would have been very tormented," Mr York said.
"I wish we lived in a world where those sorts of people didn't slip through the cracks in that way. Obviously she'd been through so much but wasn't able to get the support and help that she needed.
"I can't imagine what she would have gone through in those months between the incident and her death - the spiralling thoughts in her mind."
*For 24-hour domestic violence support call the national hotline 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or MensLine on 1800 600 636. The Suicide Call Back service is on Call 1300 659 467.
Originally published as Murder-suicide as dad shoots teen kids: How chaplains help our cops