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What does it feel like when your husband kills your children... one mother's harrowing testimony

 

On July 29, 2013, Kathleen Chada's two sons Eoghan (10) and Ruairi (5) were murdered by their father, Sanjeev Chada. He is currently serving a life sentence but Kathleen, a nurse, from Carlow in the Republic, is left living with an unanswerable question - why?

I found out about Sanj's embezzlement about two-and-a-half weeks before he took the boys (the stay-at-home dad had run up mounting gambling debts and embezzled €56,000 (£49,600) from a local community centre. Things were strained between the two of us but we went camping that weekend because I was adamant we were going. We promised the boys and they were looking forward to it.

We came back on the Monday and - with hindsight - that entire week, Sanj was calmer. I saw it as relief, that things were all out in the open, I hadn't kicked him out and we were actually doing something about it and looking to the future.

Hindsight would now tell me that he'd worked out he, in theory, wasn't going to be around and the boys weren't going to be around to face any backlash.

I know now that I was a target too (an email and suspected suicide note was later uncovered in which Sanjeev urged loved ones to "raise a glass to Kathleen and the boys"). He intended taking the four of us together but why or how, I don't know.

I remember in the hours during the night that they were missing thinking 'he's got the boys with him so they'll be okay'.

If he'd gone off on his own, I'd have worried he might do something to himself, but he adored the boys. What happened was never even a fleeting thought in my head.

My mind goes to those last moments sometimes - what was it like for them? Eoghan may have wondered why they were driving so much, but they fell asleep in the car so I have to hope they slept through a lot of that. And they were with their dad. My hope is that, right up until those last moments, they were okay. That's what I allow myself to believe.

But those last moments, I don't go there, because they're too horrific and too horrendous. What he did to Eoghan was just beyond me… and Eoghan fought.

I always assumed that Ruairi died first but he didn't. Sanj would say that Ruairi slept throughout everything that happened to Eoghan but I know he can't have done. With what damage was done to Eoghan, he can't possibly have slept through that.

It's the betrayal for them of it being their dad. And yet, I do believe that the boys have forgiven him for what he did to them.

It's not something that brings me any comfort, it's just something I feel. I've a lot of feelings that I don't question too much, I just go with them.

I feel they are at peace. I have a deep faith and I believe I'll meet my boys again and they're with me all the time. I don't blame God for this - I know who is responsible.

In a way, it would have been easier for me to accept that Sanj was insane, it would be easier to say 'my husband was insane and killed my children' rather than my husband was an evil SOB and killed my children.

And yet,no label would ever be good enough. I'm always looking for reasons, but there is no reason. There's nothing to justify the unjustifiable. But that question of 'what was it?' is one of the reasons why it was hard for me to keep away from reading the coverage of the Hawe family inquest because it's so close to my own story. I'm always looking for that little bit of insight, the 'why' to explain what happened.

The talk about putting a mental health diagnosis on Alan Hawe, personally I think it's a very dangerous thing to do because in some ways it's almost excusing it. It takes away responsibility a bit and I would have been so angry had that been the case for Sanj. Sanj was, and is, an intelligent man. There are many people out there with very serious mental health issues that don't kill their children.

I look at Sanj and the Hawe case and I see the same thing - shame. This was about an incredibly deep, innate selfishness where somebody did not want to lose their good name, so it came down to shame.

Like Alan Hawe, Sanj was seen as this stand-up person within the community, a good dad and a good husband. I remember last year there was a lot of criticism when Alan Hawe was still being perceived as a good guy and that wasn't fair, because that was the perception, that was the person everybody saw. That's what they saw in Sanj and I know that if he had killed himself at the same time that he killed the boys, I would have wanted to bury the three of them together. Because we were a happy family. I still have one family photo on my wall because we were a happy family, I won't have all my memories tainted.

It's the same with keeping my surname. Most people associate Chada with Sanj but for me it's a connection to Eoghan and Ruairi. The way I look at it now is that it's okay to remember that good time, it hasn't changed because of what he did.

I haven't seen Sanj again other than in court and we're in the process of getting divorced. Is he evil? I don't know. It's hard to think of him in that way. It's hard to think that I loved him, married him, had two children with him, lay next to him every night and for all those nights, he was evil. His actions? There's no doubt they were evil.

There were no indicators, no red flags, no way of predicting what happened. I find trust very difficult now. Not trusting other people, but trusting my own instincts. And yet you can't go round thinking that everybody is a suspect, that everybody can turn.

I focus on keeping going. I'm involved in a group, Sentencing and Victims Equality, lobbying to make changes to sentencing in Ireland and I've met people in similar circumstances. We're all getting up in the morning, working and we recognise the bad days, the days when you simply can't put your foot to the floor.

I talk at novenas, and to journalists, about my experience, not to normalise it - there's nothing normal in any of this - but to try and show that it is normal to feel a plethora of emotions when you're going through grief.

I know what talking to other people who have been through loss has done for me and if something I say resonates, then that's something positive that can come out of this.

I know I'm lucky to be surrounded by friends, family, the community, to have met the right psychologist who I still see almost every week, that I'm a talker and survivor and that, even though there are many times when I've wished I wasn't here, I'm not going to kill myself - I would never do that to my parents.

But for every positive I can find, I'd give it all up in a heartbeat just to have my boys back with me.

In conversation with Chrissie Russell

Belfast Telegraph

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