25 September 2023

'It's your worst nightmare': Mother of alleged ANU stabbing victim speaks out

| Lizzie Waymouth
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“I felt pretty lucky that she had hung on that long to see me; I felt lucky that she was still with us,” Fiona Coffey said. Photo: Joanne Griffiths.

The mother of one of the victims of a stabbing on the Australian National University (ANU) campus addressed the media on Monday (25 September), one week after the alleged incident took place.

Fiona Coffey said her daughter Ilysha Perry is still in the ICU at the Canberra Hospital and is in a “serious but stable condition”.

Ms Coffey described Ilysha, a second-year bachelor of arts student at ANU, as “the quietest, loveliest girl you’d ever meet”.

“As a mother, it’s your worst nightmare,” she said.

“We’re all devastated but she’s a bit better today, so that’s a good day.”

Ms Coffey said Ilysha can talk, but she is likely to have serious long-term issues.

“Hopefully, she’ll recover, but she’ll never be the same,” she said.

Ms Coffey said she has been “constantly with Ilysha at this point”, and her five other children have been able to visit her in the ICU.

“Nothing else matters other than Ilysha at this point,” she said.

READ ALSO UPDATED: Man charged with two counts of attempted murder at ANU remanded in custody

ACT Policing and ACT Ambulance Services were called to the ANU campus at 2:45 pm last Monday (18 September) following reports of a stabbing incident.

Police say a 24-year-old man initially engaged a male student by hitting him on the head with a frying pan, with the student subsequently running away from the scene.

The 24-year-old then allegedly stabbed Ilysha and another 20-year-old female student.

The man then allegedly approached a second male student and punched him in the face.

The suspect, Alex Ophel, has been charged with two counts of attempted murder, two counts of assault and one count of possessing an object to be used to kill.

Ms Coffey recalled the events of last Monday, saying that she had only just returned to her home in Batemans Bay after spending the weekend with Ilysha, her youngest daughter and “precious baby”.

“I left her house that morning,” she said. “I just spent the weekend with her and my other daughter. I just got home when I got the call that Ilysha had been stabbed and that I had to get there straight away.

“They weren’t sure that I’d get there in time because I lived two hours away from Canberra, so I just dropped everything, got in the car and drove straight here.”

Ms Coffey said she was in “shock, disbelief” and the worst part was not knowing whether her daughter would make it.

“We didn’t know if she was going to survive or not.

“I felt pretty lucky that she had hung on that long to see me. I felt lucky that she was still with us.”

READ ALSO Chief Psychiatrist reviewing circumstances surrounding ANU stabbings and the alleged attacker

Ms Coffey thanked those who helped her daughter and said the community’s support has been “amazing” both in Canberra and Batemans Bay.

“I’d like to thank the first responders that acted so quickly to help her, the police, the security teams and the ambulance,” she said.

“And to the brave man who got to Ilysha within seconds and helped her, if it wasn’t for you, she wouldn’t be here today.

“Thank you from the bottom of my heart,” she said.

Ms Coffey also thanked the ANU and said she still believes the campus is a safe place for students.

“[The ANU] has taken care of our every need and their assistance has been invaluable,” she said.

“To the ANU students that were there last Monday and the ones that weren’t there, ANU is a safe place for students that are struggling.

“Please get some help. ANU will help you reach out and get the help that you need.

“Be brave, be strong, be heroes like Ilysha.”

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Dear Fiona, Thank so much for sharing everything. You are the first relative we have heard from, yet we have all been worried to bits and wondering how family members like you were managing. May your great love and caring be rewarded with Ilysha’s more complete recovery than you now think possible. With love from all of us here, Roy

Sending prayers, I hope all the victims can heal and move past this horrific attack.

This is just so screwed up it beggars belief.

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