Grieving children are people too

Elisa carrying her sister Magdalena to a quiet corner of the airport.


By Lian Cheng

Ever since Elisa Olivia Damian, 10; Joseph Rayyan Damian, 8; and Magdalena Damian, 2 came out of the Kuching International Airport (KIA) arrival hall, Elisa and Magdalena had been holding tight to each other.

Once out in the public waiting area, they were swarmed by reporters trying to get the best photo shots while the children’s relatives also tried to reach out to them, to cuddle, comfort and hug them.

In the commotion, little Magdalena burst into tears. Who could blame her, the journalist community can sometimes lack a tactful touch when trying to get the best pictures or footage or clear sound bites.

Relentless rounds of interviews ensued and every now and then, Magdalena would cry out loud when she felt strangers were pressing too close for her comfort while her sister, Elisa, tried her best to pacify her.

Ever since exiting the arrival hall, Elisa was seen clearly avoiding the crowds, especially the limelight. Wearing a hoodie to hide her face, she would look in the direction where there were no cameras or strangers in sight.

Many times, I noticed she appeared to be trying to get away from the crowds, even though she would obediently join the crowds for photo-calls when asked. She would later quietly sneak away and go off to areas where she could be alone, to get a breather, I initially thought, only to later find out that she was seeking refuge where she could silently shed her tears away from the public eye.

All this while, this child of 10, standing less than five feet tall, slim, perhaps weighing less than 40kg soaking wet, was carrying her baby sister Magdalena, who is less than two years old and small for her age, perhaps less than 10kg.

Elisa’s parents have just been taken away so cruelly from her and her siblings. Other than her little sister who was clinging on to her like a baby koala, she also has to look out for her doe-eye brother who did not seem to know what was going on. Imagine how she would feel?

Elisa rests on a seat while tending to her sister Magdalena away from the crowd.

At one point, she was able to finally steal away and find a seat somewhere in a quiet area of the airport, only to have a sharp-eyed reporter notice her and approach her for an interview. She answered politely but walked away at the first chance she found, towards another area with no one around. But the press did not let go of her so easily. Every time she tried to find a space to be by herself, reporters would follow her and continued to take videos and snap a barrage of photos.

Finally, I managed to get to her alone. For the first time as a journalist in more than two decades, I apologised to her and on behalf of the journalist community for being insensitive and walked away as soon as I could, because I knew she needed the space and the distance.

Watching her small, forlorn frame carrying her little sister in her arms protectively as she walked away in search of a quiet place, for the first time in my career as a journalist, I could not hold back my tears.

Elisa, Magdalena and Joseph are children of late Damian Lemon of Kampung Daha Kisau in Serian and his wife Ronwina Mambai from Kampung Ruan Lubang Tiung in Simunjan who were found dead in a bathroom of a flat in Taman Tringkap, Brinchang in Cameron Highlands on March 10.

Preliminary investigations found burn marks on Ronwina’s palm, who was believed to have been electrocuted when she went to help her husband who was showering using the water heater at the time.

Elisa was the first person to find her parents lying dead in the bathroom. — DayakDaily