Julie and Mark Wallace went through every parent’s worst nightmare when their daughter Sara Zelenak was murdered.
Julie and Mark Wallace went through every parent’s worst nightmare when their daughter Sara Zelenak was murdered.

Terror victim’s parents reveal heartbreak

For Julie Wallace, finding out her daughter Sara Zelenak was missing after the 2017 London terror attack was like losing a small child at the supermarket.

"Your heart races," Ms Wallace told news.com.au. "That feeling of, 'My god, where are they?' panic. I had that for three days."

Ms Zelenak, 21, had moved from Brisbane to the UK at the beginning of 2017 for what was supposed to be the adventure of a lifetime.

She had landed a job as an au pair in London and had plans to meet her family in Paris for a holiday later that year.

Sara Zelenak was murdered in the London terror attack on June 3, 2017.
Sara Zelenak was murdered in the London terror attack on June 3, 2017.

But during a night out on June 3, 2017, Ms Zelenak was one of eight people murdered by terrorists during an attack on London Bridge and Borough Market.

However in the immediate aftermath of the attack it wasn't known what had happened to her.

Ms Wallace feared her daughter had been kidnapped by terrorists or was lying injured in hospital and hadn't be identified properly.

"I was thinking maybe she didn't have ID on her, maybe her bag was lost and they don't know who she is," she said.

Then, after a few days of uncertainty, the Australian Federal Police contacted the Wallaces, asking them to fly over to the UK to see if a young woman's body that had been found was their daughter.

Her senseless death devastated her parents, Julie and Mark Wallace. Picture: South West News Service
Her senseless death devastated her parents, Julie and Mark Wallace. Picture: South West News Service

Their worst fears were realised while still en route. On the flight over, they learned that then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull had announced the body found was indeed that of their daughter.

"I thought I was having a heart attack; I actually thought I was dying. I couldn't get any air in," Ms Wallace said of the moment she learned her daughter had died.

Dealing with grief after terror attack

Ms Wallace and her husband Mark appear on this week's episode of SBS' Insight, where they speak about the impact their daughter's death had on their marriage.

In the months that followed Ms Zelenak's murder, both dealt with their grief in vastly different ways.

Mr Wallace grappled with "terrible guilt" that he hadn't been there to protect his daughter.

Ms Zelenak’s parents have set up a not-for-profit in her memory.
Ms Zelenak’s parents have set up a not-for-profit in her memory.

"For three months he could hardly get out of bed, he just slept, all the time and he couldn't put his shoes and socks on," Ms Wallace said.

In contrast, Ms Wallace threw herself into work in a bid to distract herself from her grief.

"I went back to work fairly quickly after a few weeks and I couldn't think about her death and I couldn't deal with the fact that I couldn't see her again for the next 30 years," she said.

"The thought of never seeing her again for the rest of my life and being robbed of the future with her was too painful.

"So I kept as busy as I could to deal with it, because I couldn't go to that place."

While 80 per cent of parents who suffer the death of a child split up, Ms Wallace said the couple have been each other's "rock", despite their different ways of dealing with grief.

"We realised there's no right or wrong way [to grieve] and supported each other in giving each other space," she said.

"I think you either become closer or you split from this.

While both grieved differently following her death, the experience has made them closer. Picture: Annette Dew
While both grieved differently following her death, the experience has made them closer. Picture: Annette Dew

"Mark is my rock. If I was having a bad day he would accept that and let me have that space and I didn't judge him when he wasn't able to work, wasn't able to get out of bed, I just accepted it."

Ms Wallace wasn't able to go into her daughter's room for months and her suitcase from London - which also contained the bloodstained phone that had been with her during the attack - remained untouched.

"I ended up, about a year later, actually burning her case," Ms Wallace said.

"I took her special clothes out of it. All the toxic energy stuff I burnt the case with it in it and then I started my healing process after."

Ms Wallace wasn’t able to touch her daughter’s suitcase for a year after her death.
Ms Wallace wasn’t able to touch her daughter’s suitcase for a year after her death.

It was around this time Ms Wallace says her work as a personal trainer "became meaningless" as grief had changed her.

The Wallaces have gone on to start not-for-profit Sarz Sanctuary in their daughter's memory, offering grief support and tools for parents who have lost a child.

Ms Wallace wants other parents out there who are grieving to know there is no right way to deal with the death of a child.

"It's your journey, do what is right for you - there's no right or wrong and there's no time (limit)," she said.

Watch Julie and Mark Wallace's interview on Insight this Tuesday night at 8.30pm and on SBS On Demand.

 

 

Originally published as Terror victim's parents reveal heartbreak


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