Courtney (Konstandina) Amber Herron was described by her mother as a “damaged little bird”, a headstrong girl who grew into a sensitive and vulnerable woman.
Maxie (Metaxia) Antoniou talked to the press about her divorce from her lawyer husband, John Herron, when Courtney was just three. As a young girl she was headstrong, devoted time to scrap booking a project called ‘Sister Love’ with her little sister and enjoyed Christmases. However there were many changes in her life as Courtney moved from one school to another from Lowther Hall Anglican Grammar School in Essendon, Laurston Girls’ School in Armadale and Genazzano in Kew, and a few inner-city schools – always looking for a fresh start.
The police placed her on a diversion program in her late teens after she was found with two ecstasy tablets. The program helped for a while but was not enough to stop the slide to drug addiction coupled with mental problems.
In 2015, Courtney met Kurdish refugee from Turkey, Ahmet Ozkurt. An electrician, he took care of her and was fundamental to helping to distance her from the drugs; for a while at least. They planned to get married, but he was taken into a detention centre after complications with his visa, something for which Courtney blamed herself for after having missed an appointment that was to examine his visa renewal.
Despite her family’s efforts to protect her, she pushed them away. For the two years preceding her death, she lived on the streets and there was little they could do to bring her home. Through all these hardships and dire circumstances of her young life, Courtney’s family had always been there, watching and trying to help as best they could.
Her grandmother and sometimes an ex-boyfriend would offer shelter. But for the most part, Courtney opted to sleep rough on Flinders Lane.
Instead of realising her dreams of working to help the community and receive a diploma in human resources, she turned to life on the streets and couch surfing.
Jessica Bateman, a friend of the victim, told Network Ten that Courtney was trying to get into public housing and trying to get into methadone to stop the withdrawal symptoms that she would face from giving up heroine. “The fear of withdrawal is what really kept her using,” Bateman said.
Courtney was one of the 82,500 people in Victoria, including 25,000 children on the public housing waiting list, according to Victoria’s Council to Homeless Persons.
Her mother would ring friends and use social media to track her down. “You don’t know me, I’m Courtney’s mum,” she’d say, trying to find her daughter, never giving up. “We tried so hard,” Maxie told the Age.
The last time her family had contact with Courtney was during Greek Orthodox Easter when her yiayia visited her at the Austin Hospital. She blocked her mother on social media, but this was nothing new and there was hope that somehow the young woman would turn her life around at some stage. And she might have, had it not been cut short.
She will be with pappou
Instead of a happy ending, her mother and grandmother visited the spot where Courtney was allegedly murdered in order to pay their last respects.
“I love you my sweetheart Courtney,” wrote her yiayia on flowers left at the scene. “You will always be in my heart. You are now in a better place with your pappou.”
Another note said: “To our beloved Courky. Forever in our hearts. Find eternal peace with pappou. You will be forever safe with him. Love, mum, Chris, Sian and Lulu.”
The women threw their hands in the air, as if asking God for answers. Overcome by helplessness, journalists could hear them crying from 100 metres away. Speaking in Greek, they draped themselves over the logs where Courtney’s body had been found by dog walkers on Sunday morning.
In an interview with the Daily Mail, her father said, “It’s just very difficult. I can’t barely speak about it.”
Death prompts national debate
While mother and grandmother mourned at the spot where Courtney was killed, Henry Richard Hammond – the man accused of her murder – fronted Melbourne’s Magistrate Court.
A vagrant himself, police emphasise that homelessness and Courtney’s turbulent life should not be blamed for her death. They state that there is no excuse for her killing. The message they want to get out is that violence is not about the victims but about the behaviour of the perpetrators. The police said “the key point is [that] this is about men’s behaviour, it’s not about women’s behaviour”.
Courtney is the fourth Melbourne woman to be violently killed and dumped in a public place in less than 12 months. Her death comes after the rape and murder of Eurydice Dixon, Aiia Maasarwe, Natalina Angok.
Federal Minister for Women Marise Payne pledged to do more to protect women following the latest loss.
“We have been only too tragically reminded in the last couple of days, again in Melbourne with the appalling murder of Courtney Herron, that the safety of women is something that must concern us all,” she told ABC radio.
Opposition Labor leader Antony Albanese called for a national summit to tackle violence against women while also renewing please for more social housing.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said the Government would make any recommended changes to security.
Community pays respects to Courtney
A vigil will be held for Courtney at Royal Park on Friday. Asha-Mae Chapman, the organiser of the vigil is a 17-year-old student who did not know Ms Herron but lives in the area and uses the park. “I did not want Courtney Herron to be lost to the news cycle,” she said, hoping the vigil could act as a catalyst for community action to help those who are vulnerable in society. At the end of the day, Ms Herron was just an innocent woman looking for a safe place to sleep.
The funeral service will take place at the Holy Church of Saint Dimitrios on Monday, 3 June 2019, at 10.30am. A burial will follow the service at Northern Memorial Park, Mitchell Section, Box Forest Road, Glenroy.
She will be buried beside her pappou, say the grief-stricken family. They released a statement expressing that they are “heartbroken”.
“The loss has devastated our entire family,” they wrote.
The family has asked for donations to be made to Frontyard Youth Services instead of flowers and wreaths.
A Go Fund Me page had been set up by the Melbourne Homeless Collective to raise money for the funeral expenses in order “to save her family from further grief of having to find funds to bury their daughter.” In less than 24 hours, the $10,000 goal was surpassed as contributions flowed in, showing that the community has been affected by the brutal murder that casts the spotlight on violence against women, homelessness, the need for better administration of methadone programs, for more public housing and even visas for refugees bearing in mind that Courtney’s life may have taken another turn had her fiance been allowed to stay in the country.
Above all, however, Courtney’s death shows yet again that something must be done to tackle violence against women in Victoria so that they can feel safer.
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