Ben was separated from the boys’ mum – but when it was his turn to have them, he was in his element. Determined his sons would have everything they could ever need, Ben worked hard as a project manager for a construction business.
‘I want to give them the same amazing life you gave us,’ he’d tell me.
My husband Michael, 67, and I were just so proud. Ben even encouraged me when I started my nursing degree aged 60
‘Good on you, Ma,’ he said, his little nickname for me.
A few years later, in 2014, Ben moved in with us. It was great to have him around. One day, Michael and I were going to visit Andrew and his family.
‘I’ll see you soon, Ma,’ Ben grinned, hugging me.
Michael and I spent a gorgeous afternoon playing with the grandkids. But early the next morning, Michael and Andrew burst into my room.
There had been an awful report on the news about a fatal shooting at a house in Epping. They recognised a licence plate on one of the cars on TV. It was Ben’s.
‘He’s been killed,’ Michael howled.
Terror shot through my body like volts of electricity. It didn’t make sense. Hysterical, I had to sit down and process the horrific news.
My beautiful boy was gone. Someone had taken his life. He was just 39. And he was such a good man.
Why would anybody want to hurt him?
Once the tears started, they just didn’t stop. Arriving back to the quiet and empty house was like being frozen in time. Ben’s bed was neatly made and all his things were there waiting for him to come back.
‘He never made it home,’ I sobbed.
We found out that as he was driving, Ben had received a call from a friend who needed a lift home from a child’s eighth birthday party.
Generous as ever, he went to help out his mate. As he stood in the doorway at the house where the party was, some thug had shot Ben in the chest. He’d died at the scene.
‘I just hope he didn’t feel any pain,’ I cried to Michael.
In 2016, Jumer Selimovski, 50, appeared at the Victorian Supreme Court and pleaded not guilty to murdering my son, Benjamin Monteath.
Prosecutor Jeremy McWilliams told the jury that Selimovski had been friends with the owner of the house, a mechanic, but they’d had a falling out over car parts.
Enraged, on the night of the party, Selimovski went to teach him a lesson. Mr McWilliams said Selimovski enlisted two accomplices ‘in his irrational war’ and convinced them to go with him to the house.
Then he’d fired two shots, with one hitting Ben. It was a tragic case of mistaken identity. The wrong place, the wrong time.
Selimovski was found guilty of murder.
In my victim impact statement, I told the court how little Josh and Zach will have to grow up without their loving, hardworking dad.
‘They always ask when their daddy is coming down from heaven,’ I said tearfully.
‘He didn’t know any of you but you took him from us, ending his life and destroying ours.’
It made the judge cry.
He sentenced Selimovski to 22-and-a-half years behind bars with a minimum of 17 years. Two other men who were at the scene, Ozan Yusuf, 39, and Oguzhan Gurkan, 35, admitted to manslaughter. Yusuf was sentenced to six years in prison, and Gurkan to six-and-a-half years.
Josh and Zach now live with us. Whenever Josh erupts into laughter, I see a flash of his sweet dad behind his eyes. And Zach follows his big brother around the house, his quiet tenacity exactly like Ben’s.
Dealing with the grief and looking after the boys meant I put my nursing studies on hold. But in 2018, I returned to the degree and finally graduated this year.
I could feel my angel sitting on my shoulder, his spirit urging me on.
Then, in May this year, Michael and I officially became the legal custodians of our grandsons, Josh, now eight, and Zach, seven. I became a nurse and a mum at age 68!
‘Nan and Pop are going to protect you always,’ we told the boys.
Five years since Ben’s death, I just want them to remember their dad’s kind and gentle nature. We have a lifetime of memories to teach them.
And I know Ben’s memory burns so bright in his beautiful sons.