‘Dying inside’: Dad’s grief after horror crash
The families of four children who were killed when a drunk driver mowed them down as they walked along a footpath to buy ice cream have spoken of their unfathomable pain while launching an annual day of forgiveness.
Antony, 13, Angelina, 12, and Sienna Abdallah, 8, and their cousin Veronique Sakr, 11, died at the scene of the crash in Oatlands in Sydney's west on February 1 last year.
Antony, Angelina and Sienna's siblings Liana, Alex and Michael survived.
Just days later, mother Leila Geagea Abdallah said she would forgive the man behind the wheel.
To honour the children and spread their message of forgiveness, the two families started i4Give Day, which was launched at the Royal Botanic Gardens on Sunday.
Shattered father Danny Abdallah gave a heart-wrenching speech, describing how his life had been turned upside down and changed forever.
"I received the phone call that no parents should ever receive: 'come now, your kids have been in an accident'," he said.
"With my heart pounding and mind racing in deep desperation, I made my way to what is now the scene of the nation's most tragic accident in modern times.
"Four children dead instantly. It was like entering the aftermath of a war zone.
"Friends, I am in pain. My days are empty. My heart is aching. Tears of hopelessness visit me each day. I am dying on the inside and it's hard to take much more.
"However, I faced a choice, the choice that I want you all to comprehend … what path do I take? The path of destruction or the path of construction?
"I chose to seek my refuge in my strength. I chose to obey my father in heaven and forgive."
Ms Abdallah told the gathering she had mixed emotions: heartbreak at missing her children, determination to keep going for them, peace at knowing they were in heaven and shock that one year had already passed.
"We chose to turn our tragedy into a greater goodness, we chose to carry our cross with dignity, we chose forgiveness and love over hatred," she told the live streamed memorial.
"Within 48 hours, I went to the scene and forgave the driver. A lot of people have been surprised.
"There is power in forgiveness … it is a sign of strength. Forgiveness gives you freedom and allows you to live your life peacefully."
She said she forgave the diver because she was Christian and told non believers it "frees up your emotions".
"It bring healing to a hurting soul."
Bridgette Sakr, Veronique's mother, recited the poem "Forgiveness is Divine" by Pat A Fleming.
"More than that, it sets you free from what weighs you down inside," Ms Sakr read.
"There's a balance to this crazy world, so live and just let live."
She also said there could be no peace without justice and no justice without forgiveness.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison told the service he was left "in awe" by the Abdallahs' forgiveness.
"When Antony and Angelina and Sienna and Veronique were taken one year ago tomorrow, our whole country was shocked. We were devastated. We couldn't believe it and we, with you, we grieved," Mr Morrison said.
"They were great kids, beautiful kids. Blessings as all children are.
"On a footpath going for a summer ice cream - what could be more innocent than that on a hot Australian summer's day? And then the horror came out of such ordinariness. Incomprehensible.
"And then in the days that followed to hear from Danny and Leila the words of faith and forgiveness, well, that was breathtaking."
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian also spoke, citing Martin Luther King, who said forgiveness was not an occasional act but a constant attitude.
"Please know that we can't imagine your deep pain and grief but we try to share it with you and remember your four angels in the best way we can," the premier said.
The driver, Samuel William Davidson, faced a slew of charges over the crash including driving under the influence of drugs and speeding.
He pleaded guilty in October.
Originally published as 'Dying inside': Dad's grief after horror crash