Family of slain St Andrew’s water polo coach Lilie James bravely visit school memorial set up for daughter

The family of a young water polo coach murdered inside a gymnasium bathroom last week have visited the Sydney school where their daughter’s life was taken.

Lilie James, 21, suffered horrific, fatal head injuries just before midnight on October 25, with her ex-boyfriend and colleague Paul Thijssen, 24 suspected to be responsible.

Devastated students, teachers and members of the community contributed to a huge collection of floral tributes and notes that piled up at the exclusive St Andrew’s Cathedral School in the wake of her death.

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A letter sent to parents and staff on Friday afternoon revealed James’ family had overcome unimaginable grief to visit the memorial created in honour of their daughter.

“This week the James family visited the school to see the floral tributes, cards and gifts left for Lilie,” St Andrew’s head of school Dr Julie McGonigle said.

“As with every time I have spoken to them, they showed deep concern and compassion for how our students are coping at this time.

“That in itself, is testament to the calibre of this family. Please continue to uphold them in your prayers.”

The memorial will be in place until Sunday before the flowers are relocated to the Remembrance Garden at Kirrikee.

Parents and teachers lay flowers at the entrance to St Andrew’s Cathedral School in the Sydney CBD. Credit: DEAN LEWINS/AAPIMAGE
Lilie James’ family has visited the memorial established in honour of their daughter. Credit: Supplied

Significant resources have been offered to staff and students in the wake of James’ death, with small group sessions run by youth mental health foundation Headspace to be held for pupils taught by her and Thijssen.

McGonigle asked the community to keep students in their prayers, especially pupils starting exams “against this torrid backdrop”.

“I made a commitment last week that the horrors of this situation would not define our community and I thanked you for partnering with me. I remain unwavering in that commitment,” she said.

“What I could not have envisaged at the time was the sheer strength of the partnership that would be offered from students, staff and parents.

“Thank you, sincerely. Whilst I have no words that adequately express my thoughts and feelings about the incident, I am deeply grateful for your response.”

Meanwhile, the future of the sports centre’s staff toilet area was also addressed in the school note.

“Builders hoarding has been erected in front of that whole area so it cannot be seen and the area behind the hoarding is being demolished,” McGonigle said.

Thijssen is believed to have carried out his crime before using James’ phone to message her dad, asking him to pick her up.

“In essence, either he hoped the father would find Lilie or be there when the police found Lilie because he called them,” University of Newcastle criminologist Dr Xanthe Mallett told Sunrise this week.

After flicking off the message, Thijssen fled to Vaucluse in the city’s eastern suburbs and tipped off police with a call.

His body was recovered on Friday near the base of the cliffs. Items linked to the suspected murder had been found a day earlier near the same spot.

Detectives are not looking for any other suspects.

A GoFundMe campaign launched to support James’ family has raised more than $25,000.

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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