First Nations readers are advised this article contains images of a person who has died (published with permission).
This article discusses domestic violence and suicide.
A 17-year-old Wiradjuri woman allegedly faced a relentless barrage of domestic violence at the hands of her boyfriend before dying in a Queanbeyan toilet block.
The inquest into the death of Charli Powell, who apparently suicided early in the morning of 11 February 2019, began in the NSW Coroners Court at Queanbeyan on Tuesday (1 March).
Counsel assisting Jake Harris said the inquest would examine the circumstances of her death and consider whether it was self-inflicted or if it was caused by another person. But whatever the circumstances were, he expected evidence would show it did occur in the context of domestic violence.
“Domestic violence is tragically a prominent feature in suicides of First Nations women,” he said.
Mr Harris alleged evidence would say Charli’s boyfriend was violent towards her, expecting a witness would say he used to choke her before she passed out while the boyfriend’s own mother had seen him push Charli twice.
There was evidence he pushed her to the ground in January 2019, Mr Harris alleged, breaking her rib. The autopsy found an old injury to her rib.
Also, texts between them referred to him “bashing” her while he also threatened to assault her.
“Swear to God … I’ll stab ya in your throat,” he said in one message.
In the days leading up to her death, Charli texted him to say: “I don’t want to ever hear from you again. I’m sick of this.”
At one stage the boyfriend made 77 unanswered calls to her over a couple of hours, and on another, he made 97 over about an hour. She asked him to stop.
Mr Harris alleged the boyfriend had given different accounts of the lead up to Charli’s death as well as inconsistent details about his movements.
He said the boyfriend claimed Charli left his home at about 3:30 am on 11 February, and afterwards, they exchanged about 10 calls over about 20 minutes.
He told police she had allegedly told him she was going to kill herself. He claimed he went looking for her and found her in the men’s toilets at the oval on the grounds of the Queanbeyan Kangaroos Rugby League Club in Crestwood.
The boyfriend contacted a man who lived nearby for help and this man was the first person to testify at the inquest.
He said the boyfriend had knocked on his door that morning, saying: “Please help me.”
“He was in shock. He was in genuine grief,” the man said.
He went to the toilet block, saw vomit and blood at the scene and heard the boyfriend say something like, “She can’t be dead, she can’t be dead”.
She was pronounced dead at about 5 am.
The autopsy found she had a bruise on her forehead and abrasions of different ages.
Outside the courtroom, Sharon Moore, Charli’s mother, told reporters her daughter was a friendly, lovely and loyal person who hated injustice and was a very good friend.
“Animals loved her, little kids [loved her]. She just had that personality, everyone was just drawn to her, and if you knew her, you loved her,” she said.
“To fully comprehend the loss, you’ll have to ask me on my deathbed because it’s going to take a lifetime to adjust. It’s like learning to live again without her and it’s so hard.”
Ms Moore said it was a “big fight” to have Charli’s case reach an inquest and at first she had been told there wouldn’t be one.
“This is the last fight I get to fight for her, and after that, I’ve just got to go back to my life without her. It’s going to be hard,” she said.
“I want justice for Charli. I know my daughter, I knew her above everybody else. We were really close. She had her issues, but she always knew there was a brighter day.”
Charli’s best friend, Kaitlin Sanderson, said their friends, others who went to Karabar High School and Queanbeyan as a whole, had been “absolutely shattered” by her loss.
Ms Sanderson, who said they had more of a sisterhood than a friendship, described Charli as a very bubbly person who was the life of the party, loved her friends and family and enjoyed her job at KFC Fyshwick.
She said it seemed like some had moved on since her funeral, “but my life will never go back to what it was”.
“No matter what she went through, she was always there for everyone else. She was truly one of a kind,” she said.
The inquest is expected to run until Thursday before Deputy State Coroner Magistrate Harriet Grahame.
Charli’s identity is published with the permission of her family.
If this story has raised any concerns for you, 1800RESPECT, the national 24-hour sexual assault, family and domestic violence counselling line, can be contacted on 1800 737 732. Help and support are also available through The Canberra Rape Crisis Centre 02 6247 2525, The Domestic Violence Crisis Service ACT 02 6280 0900, Lifeline 13 11 14, the Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467 and Kids Helpline 1800 551 800. In an emergency call 000.