￼Promising to look after my babies, Matt smiled at me with such sincerity.
‘I’ll treat the kids like they’re my own,’ he vowed, shaking my partner Shane’s hand.
Hemi, 18 months, and his big sister, three, adored their daddy’s friend.
Years ago, Matt, 31, and Shane, 35, had worked together. And since Matt had split with his wife, he’d been staying with us. A dad himself, he was desperate to earn cash to move closer to his children.
Nursing a workplace injury, I needed help, so we’d offered him a job as a nanny. In agony, I couldn’t even lift my babies, so Matt stepped in for me, showering our bubs with love.
They loved him back, too. Matt let the kids play hairdresser, tying his locks with colourful headbands.
And when Hemi threw his lasagne everywhere, Matt would happily clean up. Our little angel, who we called H-Bomb or Monkey, had a smile that lit up the room.
Together, we took the kids to their swimming lessons, where Matt hopped into the pool with Hemi.
‘I miss my kids,’ he told me. You poor thing, I thought, sadly.
Matt had been with us for two months when our mini-van broke down. I was due to go down to Brisbane for an appointment with a specialist and we’d planned to bring the kids.
Now we would have to take our two-seater ute for the 12-hour drive.
We were in a jam, but Matt was there to help.
‘Are you alright to look after the kids for a few nights?’ I asked. ‘Of course,’ Matt smiled.
On a whiteboard, I carefully wrote the kids' nap times and the phone numbers of our loved ones, our GP and the emergency services. Just in case, I thought.
We also told Matt that while we were away, our home was a booze-free zone. He wasn’t a big drinker, but we weren’t taking any chances.
The Sunday morning we set off, I kissed my sleeping babies goodbye.
‘Mummy will see you soon. I love you,’ I whispered to Hemi.
Over the next two days, we checked in with Matt and the kids constantly.
‘Mum, Mum!’ Hemi babbled cheerfully in the background when I called on Tuesday night.
Knowing our bubs were in good hands, Shane and I fell asleep soon after.
Waking up at 5.30am, I realised my phone was flat. But as soon as I’d plugged it in, missed calls from unknown numbers flooded my screen.
Then my mum, Kris, called. She wasn’t making any sense, but the words I could piece together made my heart sink.
‘You need to call the cops…it’s not good!’ she cried.
Dialling the police, Shane spoke to a detective who told him our precious Hemi was in Townsville Hospital.
Matt had been arrested. My parents had our daughter and, aside from a knock to her head, she was fine.
What the hell happened?
Rushing to the airport, we flew home, desperate to get back to our babies.
Walking into intensive care, my stomach lurched. Wires snaked from my beloved Hemi and his tiny body was covered in bruises.
‘He’s not going to make it,’ a doctor told us gently. ‘We have to do something!’ I screamed, inconsolable.
But it was too late. That night, his life support would be turned off.
Saying goodbye, I prayed that Hemi would defy the odds.
‘Mummy’s here. You can wake up,’ I whispered.
But my boy’s beautiful brown eyes stayed firmly shut. Cradling him in my arms, I felt his heart beat for the last time. And with that, mine shattered.
At first, Matt tried to blame Hemi's sister, saying she’d hit her brother with a chair.
But five days later, we learned the truth. Walking through our home, an officer told us what had happened.
Drinking all night, Matt wanted Hemi to shut up, so he picked him up by the throat, kicked him like a football and slammed him down in his cot.
Dumped in the bath, my little monkey tried to stand up and run to the other end. So Matt pulled him back so hard that Hemi slipped and slammed his head, severing his brain stem.
‘I failed him,’ I cried.
In March this year, Matthew James Ireland, 31, appeared at Mackay Supreme Court and pleaded guilty to manslaughter. At his sentencing in June, he was given eight-and-a-half years behind bars.
Hanging his head in shame, Matt whispered ‘sorry’ to me from the dock. But I can never forgive him.
Taking into account time served, my little boy’s killer could be out in two years. His short sentence is disgusting.
That’s why I’m petitioning for Hemi’s Law to be enacted, where perpetrators who take a child’s life spend the rest of theirs in prison.
Too little to understand, Hemi's sister still talks to him every day.
‘If you look up in the sky and you see the brightest star, that’s Hemi,’ I tell her.
Nothing will bring back my beautiful boy, but I want his legacy to live on forever.
To sign the petition, visit Change.org.
This story was originally published in that's life! Issue 38, 2017.