Amid renditions of songs from her greatest obsession, Doctor Who, and in a brightly-coloured coffin decorated with butterflies, a 12-year-old girl who took her own life was laid to rest.
Hundreds of school mates, family and friends turned out for the heart-wrenching funeral of Lauren Rafferty, nearly three weeks after the ‘bright, adventurous’ year seven student tragically ended her own life on Mother’s Day.
Parents held their school-aged kids tight as the service began in the Tree Chapel of Wagga Wagga’s Botanic Gardens, in regional New South Wales.
Tragically, mourners were told it was the same park where Lauren died.
Lauren’s father Brent Rafferty said his only daughter will ‘forever be 12’. He shared stories of a bright and talented girl who had been selected for the gifted and talented program at her school and was a finalist in a national debating competition.
‘She’s more precious than my words can explain,’ he said. ‘She was our diamond, brilliant, polished and multifaceted. But she was flawed and under immense pressure, she fractured and broke. Always beautiful, now forever out of reach.’
Lauren Rafferty’s devastated mother (pictured) led a procession out of the funeral service on Thursday afternoon
Hundreds of mourners gathered to say their farewells to Lauren, braving icy temperatures and many arriving still in school uniform
Lauren Rafferty (pictured) tragically died on Mother’s Day after struggling with her mental health for the past two years in the NSW Riverina town of Wagga Wagga
Her brother was among six pallbearers who carried her turquoise coffin to and from the funeral. The coffin also had purple butterflies printed on it
Lauren’s family said their farewells surrounded by her peers, friends and members of the community who were touched by their loss
The Kooringal High School student was found dead on May 9 after disappearing from her family home earlier that morning.
Her devastated community turned out in droves to celebrate a life cut tragically short, just days after Lauren’s mother Rachelle begged for a systematic overhaul to do more to nurture the mental health of youths in regional towns.
Ms Rafferty told mourners Lauren was her ‘shining light of joy’ who was greater than anything she ever could have imagined, and expressed sorrow that the rest of the world would now never get to know such a special person.
‘I feel robbed,’ she admitted, struggling to get the words out through her tears. ‘I feel robbed of my dream to see my child thrive and excel… She would have made a great difference if she would’ve stayed a little longer.’
She then spoke directly to Lauren, telling her: ‘You were loved, and you always will be. You are forgiven. Always and completely forgiven.’
The latter part of the message was a direct quote from Doctor Who, Lauren’s favourite program and a running theme throughout Thursday’s ceremony.
Her mother and father embraced at the service and supported one another as they both gave stirring speeches about their ‘kind, bright’ daughter
Her heartbroken mother Rachelle told Daily Mail Australia that numerous attempts were made to help Lauren (pictured) but the family struggled to find the support they desperately needed
Lauren was led out of her funeral and into the hearse first, with hundreds of mourners following behind (pictured)
Gorgeous pictures of Lauren were scattered throughout the Botanic Gardens, including this one showing her as a young girl
Lauren was an ‘outdoorsy kind of kid’, one who climbed trees to read in solitude and was never afraid to dive headfirst into water.
To her older cousins, and the many peers who turned out to say their goodbyes, Lauren will forever be remembered as fearless.
‘While she was the youngest and tiniest of us all, she was the most fierce, the most confident and the most bold,’ her cousins Pip and Sam said in a rousing speech on behalf of all the cousins.
Her coffin was turquoise, her favourite colour, and covered in purple butterflies. Loved ones spoke of her sense of adventure and love of Doctor Who
Lauren is pictured visiting the elderly at Christmas time in 2020 (left) and strawberry picking with her brother (right)
Lauren’s father (centre) told those gathered Lauren will forever be 12, a ‘brilliant, polished and multifaceted diamond [who] fractured and broke under immense pressure’
Lauren’s family were comforted as she was placed back into the hearse at the conclusion of the ceremony
Lauren’s turquoise coffin with purple butterflies was eventually carried in by her older brother, Owen, and five other family members
Lauren’s turquoise coffin with purple butterflies was eventually carried in by her older brother, Owen, and five other family members.
Mr Rafferty led the procession, walking side by side with the priest, while Ms Rafferty trailed behind, with her head down and eyes red with tears.
She sobbed as she followed Lauren’s casket up the hill and into to amphitheater, before later leading the procession back toward the hearse.
Lauren’s father thanked the defence force, police, SES volunteers, friends and strangers who spent their Mother’s Day trawling through the streets of Wagga Wagga searching for his daughter.
Ms Rafferty sobbed as she led the procession back to the hearse following Lauren’s funeral. She kept her head low and clasped onto the priest’s hand
The priest urged Lauren’s peers to know that help is available to them, should they need it, and to speak up about their emotions going forward
Ms Rafferty told Daily Mail Australia earlier in the week her beloved daughter had ‘a greater sadness than any of us could fathom… which spiralled and deepened’
Throughout the ceremony, parents clutched their own young children, wiping away their tears and shielding them from the wind.
The priest urged Lauren’s peers to know that help is available to them, should they need it, and to speak up about their emotions going forward.
Ms Rafferty told Daily Mail Australia earlier in the week her beloved daughter had ‘a greater sadness than any of us could fathom… which spiralled and deepened’.
She’d dealt with some bullying at her local school, but Ms Rafferty said her experience was not abnormal.
‘Lauren suffered the same level of bullying that any girl of her age does- which is still unacceptable,’ her mother said.
‘It’s our responsibility to improve the human race mentally and environmentally so that we all can shine instead of suffer.’
Miss Rafferty’s tragic death is just one of three recent instances of a teenager appearing to take their own life in the largely agricultural area by the Murray River
Lauren’s parents, two of her cousins and her close friend all spoke during the ceremony, sharing beloved memories with the 12-year-old or leading prayer
Lauren’s mother looked back to ensure her daughter’s casket was right behind her at the end of the ceremony
She wore a belt in the shape of a butterfly, the same design as on Lauren’s coffin
Helen Dalton, the MP for the seat of Murray, explained regional suicide is an epidemic ‘nobody talks about’, arguing small towns have been ‘neglected’ by mental health services.
‘The Murrumbidgee region has a suicide rate almost three times that of Sydney. But we have far fewer mental health services,’ she said.
Some 20 years ago the suicide rate was about the same as the major city, she said – but now it is much worse, at 20.9 per 100,000 people to Sydney’s 7.8.
Meanwhile, not one hospital in her electorate, an area of 107,000 square kilometres, has a dedicated mental health unit.
‘As Government neglects small towns and centralises services in Sydney, mental health problems in the bush increase,’ she said.
If you or anyone you know is in need of mental health support you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636.
During her moving speech on Thursday, Ms Rafferty described Lauren as her ‘shining light of joy’ who was greater than anything she ever could have imagined, and expressed her sorrow that the rest of the world would now never get to know such a special person
Hundreds of her peers, friends and family turned out for the gut-wrenching service three weeks after the ‘bright, adventurous’ grade seven student tragically died on Mother’s Day. Parents held their school-aged kids tight as the procession got underway, whispering in their ears and planting kisses atop their heads as the icy wind swept through the Tree Chapel in regional New South Wales, five hours out of Sydney
Ms Rafferty said Lauren only suffered the same level of bullying that any girl of her age does. Pictured: Kooringal High School where she was a Year 7 student