‘Disbelief, shock and horror’

Christine McGinn | Bendigo Weekly | 02-May-2014

Casey Veal says her brain has protected her from some of the horror. Photo: BILL CONROY
TOYS lie along the verandah, leading to the door of the yellow weatherboard home.

Dogs bark and race down the hallway, panting and tapping their claws, minutes before the doorknob turns.

Casey Veal, a blonde, young woman with deep, dark brown eyes opens the door.

Dressed in track pants and a singlet, this is a woman who has no intention of leaving her house.

She makes a cup of coffee and sits at the kitchen table.

Casey remembers the night her 10-and-a-half-month-old son, Zayden, was murdered.


In the background, her almost five year old son, Xavier, can be heard clicking the controller of his video game.

 With Wolverine-like claws, he vicariously jumps on rooftops, totally absorbed.

Casey still “doesn’t have a feeling” to describe that terrible morning on June 15, 2012.

“It was straight up disbelief, shock and horror,” she said.
“Even though that was in front of me, I couldn’t accept that, that’s not something you consider, ever.

“There are lots of things I can’t remember, I see things but I can’t hear things. My brain has protected me from bits and pieces.

“I don’t think anything could be worse than that, ever.”
Harley Hicks, 21, has been found guilty of the murder of Zayden, and is awaiting sentencing.

Hicks and Casey were not strangers before the murder.
The terrible irony is she helped him through a lot of tough times when they first met in Year Nine at Golden Square Secondary College.

“He used to get picked on all the time, we used to smoke so we used to go to the oval. It took the school a while to figure it out actually, he used to get beaten up all the time because he was tiny and skinny,” Casey said.
“So I said to him one day, ‘come down and sit with me, you’ll be fine’.  I got my friends to look after him for six months so he wouldn’t be beaten up anymore.

“It really feels like an ironic turn. I guarantee he wouldn’t even remember.”
Casey’s thoughts quickly turn back to that night.

She says she knew Zayden had died when she started CPR but she had to do something.
“I remember going outside and I dropped to my knees and started screaming. It wasn’t even a scream, you can’t even describe that kind of noise, it’s just pure pain, shock and trauma,” she said.
“It’s a wild sound, just mum and baby.”

Casey said she can’t understand  why anyone would want to hurt a baby, even after having a “rough life” herself.
“I’ve had a beyond rough life and that was just the icing on the cake that just destroyed me, losing my son,” she said.

“I still struggle with it now, trying to work out how any human being could do something like that especially... the severity of it, let alone the repetitiveness.
“One hit would have almost been enough to give him brain damage. That would have been enough.

“He didn’t just take Zayden’s life away, he took half of mine and Xavier’s prospects.”

The Bendigo Supreme Court is yet to hand down a sentence for the murder and Casey has her thoughts on what the judge will do.
The day the jury handed down its guilty verdict, Casey was overcome with sheer relief.

It was her best day of all the bad days of that trial.
“It was a surreal feeling and terrifying, it could have gone the other way. We all knew it wouldn’t but there was always a chance it could,” she said.

“I live with my life sentence every day and there are a lot of days where I can’t cope very well.”

Almost two years on, Casey and her family can finally publicly and privately grieve.

“I don’t even know what normal is for us,” she said.
“We are only just starting our grieving processes. Now I can name him and say ‘you are the one who actually destroyed my life’ and not feel bad about it.”

While dealing with her own grief, Casey said Xavier often bluntly says his baby brother is dead.
“He is expressing his grief. That’s something we will be stuck with forever and he’ll never stop doing that and we don’t want him to,” she said.

“We are quite proud of how resilient he has been.
“He is the proudest part of what is left of all of us.”

Xavier runs to check on his mum, which he does frequently, during the interview. Then he quickly shifts back to the comfort of his Wolverine game.
“I couldn’t pick one son over the other or imagine losing them both in one day because Xavier‘s kept me strong. If I couldn’t do it  (stay strong) for him, I couldn’t do it for anyone,”  Casey said.

“Zayden lives through me but he also lives through him (Xavier) a lot, too, because he is his little brother.”
Casey looks at Xavier without speaking. The silence continues on.

Finally she says, “I will never forget Zayden”.


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