‘Devastated and heartbroken’: Family of slain water polo coach Lilie James breaks silence

The family of a water polo coach found dead inside a prestigious Sydney school’s gym bathroom has broken their silence.

Lilie James, 21, was found dead with serious head injuries at St Andrew’s Cathedral School, in Sydney’s CBD, where she worked, on Wednesday night.

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On Friday morning, the 21-year-old’s devastated family issued their first statement since the grim discovery.

“We are devastated and heartbroken by the loss of our beautiful Lilie James,” the family said in a statement issued by police.

“She was vibrant, outgoing, and very much loved by her family and friends.

“We are tremendously grateful for the support of our community at this difficult time.

“As a police investigation is underway, we will not be providing further comments.

“We ask that you please respect our privacy.”

Lilie James was found dead on Wednesday night. Credit: Facebook
James was employed as a water polo coach at St Andrew’s Cathedral School. Credit: Facebook

James’ suspected killer, ex-boyfriend and colleague Paul Thijssen, 24, reportedly alerted authorities before going missing, sparking a police hunt.

Police began searching for the 24-year-old off the coast of Sydney in Vaucluse, about 11km from the city, on Thursday.

On Friday morning, a body was found on rocks at the base of nearby cliffs.

The body was retrieved shortly after midday, NSW Police said.

It has not been confirmed as belonging to the 24-year-old, with formal identification yet to take place.

However, detectives have previously said they were looking at the possibility Thijssen had taken his own life.

“Property associated with the homicide”, including a hammer, was found at a site in Vaucluse on Thursday.

Paul Thijssen. Credit: LinkedIn
A body was found in the search for Thijssen on Friday morning. Credit: 7NEWS

Sydney City Police Area Commander Superintendent Martin Fileman said of James on Thursday that “it was apparent she was a victim of a homicide”.

CCTV footage from the school allegedly shows James and Thijssen entering the school bathroom, with Thijssen leaving well over an hour later.

7NEWS understands the pair had been dating but James is understood to have ended the relationship a few days ago.

Thijssen is believed to have a long history with St Andrew’s, including having been a student there himself.

St Andrew’s Principal Dr Julie McGonigle told parents in an email on Friday that all school staff had been called in, as the campus remains closed.

“We are deeply concerned for the families directly involved in this incident and I am personally committed to aligning our communications with what is respectful to them and in lockstep with the NSW Police,” she said.

“Thank you sincerely for the love and support you are generously giving at this time. As I will share with staff today, the horrors of evil do not and will not define our community — that is my oath.”

Police remain at the scene at Vaucluse. Credit: 7NEWS

Students who were coached by James told 7NEWS.com.au on Thursday she was an “amazing” and “encouraging” coach.

“She always had a smile on her face,” one student said.

“You will be in all of our prayers and hearts. Thank you for making PE so much fun, thank you for being an amazing and strong coach, and thank you for being there. We love you,” another student said.

A flower memorial at the school has grown overnight, with students seen dropping off bouquets at the school’s entrance on Friday.

Police investigations continue.

If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression contact beyondblue on 1300224636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.

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