The family of a young mother who was allegedly burned to death by her estranged ex-husband have told of the heartwarming sight of her three children playing happily with their cousins after moving in with their aunt.
Kelly Wilkinson, 27, was found dead with severe burns in the backyard of her home in Arundel on the Gold Coast about 6.40am on April 20.
Her ex-husband Brian Earl Johnston – an ex-corporal in the US military – has been charged with her murder and breaching a domestic violence order.
Ms Wilkinson’s sister Danielle Carroll and her husband Rhys, who have five kids of their own, have stepped in to look after the 27-year-old’s three children who are all under the age of nine.
Kelly Wilkinson was found dead in the backyard of her home in Arundel on the Gold Coast about 6.40am on April 20
Ms Carroll said her family were having ‘open discussions’ with the children to speak about their lives going forward.
Ms Wilkinson’s children were at home during the alleged attack, with a neighbour later saying he found them in a distressed state in the driveway.
‘[We have been] letting them know they have a sense of belonging at our house, they are eternally loved and we are one big family now,’ Ms Carroll told the Today show.
The sister said she felt a sense of responsibility to look after the children because Ms Wilkinson ‘stood up and did what she had to do for them’ when she was still alive.
Ms Wilkinson is believed to have visited police on two separate occasions before her American husband allegedly set her on fire in the backyard of her home.
‘I think now that has been passed over to me and that is what we need to do,’ Ms Carroll said.
She said she and her husband were trying their hardest to make her sister’s children’s comfortable in their four-bedroom home.
‘We have a car that suits a seven person family … We need to find a car that will fit us all in,’ they said.
Ms Wilkinson’s (left) estranged partner Brian Johnston (right) has been charged with her murder
‘We just want to give these guys the best quality of life we can to get them through what they have been through – including our own kids. They have been there and heard all the details.
‘The kids are all working together in that way. The only thing we can do now is give them the best quality of life that we can.’
Ms Carroll said her sister was an ‘amazing mum’ who ‘gave her everything’ for her children.
‘She lit up a room,’ her husband added. ‘No matter what she was going through she was the light of the room.’
Ms Wilkinson’s sister Danielle Carroll with her husband Rhys. The couple, who have five kids of their own, have stepped in to look after the 27-year-old’s three children
Ms Carroll’s husband is the stepbrother of businesswoman Tamika Smith, who has launched a campaign to build a home on the Gold Coast for the three children.
Ms Smith said she was motivated to organise construction of the home after a heartbreaking visit to see the children this week.
‘Walking in last night, I was there for probably five minutes and this little two-year-old grabbed my hand and called me “mummy” and she’s just so confused,’ Ms Smith told the Gold Coast Bulletin.
‘You’ve got a two-year-old looking for her mum. We don’t have the answers as to why she’s not here, which is why I go “How do we give these children any faith in humanity, how do we show them that there are good people when they’ve experienced so much heartache at the age of two?”‘
Ms Wilkinson’s three young children are now staying at her sister Danielle Carroll’s home
‘As a nation I feel like we walked away from their mum, so what are we doing to support the kids so we don’t walk away from them?’.
Assistant Queensland Police Commissioner Brian Codd last Thursday confirmed Ms Wilkinson had approached police over ‘domestic and family violence issues’.
Mr Codd’s remarks came amid community anger over claims Ms Wilkinson and her family had gone to police on several occasions.
Asked if there were systematic issues in the police service, Mr Codd said her death was ‘ultimately a failure’ and that the matter was being reviewed.
‘A woman has died. She has been killed, we will allege, in horrific circumstances. We’re certainly going to make sure we look to improve… and correct any parts of the system that we control,’ he said.
Johnston was taken to hospital, where he was held under police guard, and remains in an induced coma. He was charged and his case made a brief appearance in court last week.
He was formally refused bail with his case to return to court at a later date.
Ms Wilkinson’s father, Reg (centre), and family attended an evening vigil for Ms Wilkinson on Monday evening
More than 1000 locals turned out to pay tribute to Ms Wilkinson, many wearing green, her favourite colour
On Monday evening, about 1,000 people, many wearing Ms Wilkinson’s favourite colour green, gathered at the Gold Coast Titans training ground to pay a silent tribute to Ms Wilkinson.
Some people brought inflatable green balloons which were released at the end of the vigil, while others carried sunflowers – Ms Wilkinson’s favourite flower.
As a guitarist played acoustic versions of Ed Sheeran’s ‘Perfect’ and Coldplay’s ‘Fix You’, Ms Wilkinson’s family arrived and made their way to a row of white chairs at the front, her father Reg in tears as he trailed his daughters Natalie and Emma, his arm around daughter Danielle.
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