My name is Meryn O’Brien and I am the mother of Jack O’Brien. I live in Sydney, Australia.
In early 2014 the opportunity came up for Jack to go on a trip overseas. He was 25 years old. He had saved money from his work and decided very quickly to travel for seven weeks in Europe.
We got up that Friday morning in July, knowing that Jack had left Amsterdam while we were asleep and was on his way home. We were looking forward to picking him up from Sydney airport that evening. We turned on the radio and heard that the Malaysian Airline Flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur had been shot down over Ukraine.
For us, the world changed that morning.
Jack our son, was our first child, joined three years later by our beloved daughter Bronwyn.
We made him. I gave birth to him. I fed him.
He was loved and nurtured and was a beautiful child to raise. I enjoyed Jack’s childhood with him immensely. He grew from a delightful and sensitive little boy into a strong young man, thinking through for himself who he was, what he believed and what was important to him. In his young adult years, he blossomed and it was a joy to watch him mature. He finished uni, settled into work and undertook further study. He was happy living semi independently down the back. He was coming home to get back into work, take up his studies, and move out. More immediately his football bag was ready for him to pick up the next day, and despite any jet lag, re-join his team to work towards a championship.
How can I convey in words the impact of Jack’s death? I often find it hard to fully grasp the reality of what has happened, but it is always either in the front or the back of my mind.
Jack is gone.
He is separated from us and us from him. He died suddenly and violently. He died on the other side of the world. He was sitting minding his own business and he was shot out of the sky. His beautiful body, which he cared for with such discipline, fell to the earth. His body, broken and burnt, then lay on the ground in a war zone.
Jack’s death was not an accident. There was nothing wrong with Jack’s body or with the plane or pilots. Jack is gone because other human beings killed him. And not just him.
We have a form reporting Jack’s death to our State Coroner.
It says Apparent Case Type? Answer: Homicide
Were there other deaths associated with this incident? Answer: Yes
Then, Specify how many. Answer: 297
At the coronial Inquest in our state of New South Wales into the deaths of the six passengers on MH17 from here, the Coroner described the shooting down of MH17 as “gross mass murder”.
I am bewildered.
I work. I garden. I walk. I enjoy time with family and friends. I look normal on the outside.
Yet I yearn for Jack to walk back in the door with his back pack on. His clothes still hang neatly in a cupboard. We received a small neatly wrapped box of items from Jack’s carry-on day pack, retrieved from the crash site, identified by us and returned to us. It been opened and then closed again. The ordinary items inside are now precious yet carry such pain.
I look at planes flying over and imagine people sitting in their seats like Jack, ear phones in, maybe reading.
I am distressed by images of him falling through the sky, or of his body lying unrecognisable on the ground in a strange place.
I care about things I cared about before but it feels like my world has shrunk.
I try to understand what happened.
We met with Ukrainian people and Russian people living in Sydney. We spoke with people in Russia. We have been to the Russian Embassy in Canberra and the Russian consulate in Sydney.
I knew a little previously of the undeclared war between Russia and Ukraine. I know more now. I know that thousands of people have died, mostly civilians. I know that ultimately all nation states serve themselves. Yet I do not understand the entrenched hatred that led to Jack and 297 others being killed. I often contemplate the fact that our deep love of Jack counted for nothing against the hatred and violence.
So how do I live now that violence has shattered our family?
How do I continue to live by my values and faith? What does it mean now for me to follow the one who said “Blessed are the peace makers?”
I do not spend time looking for some meaning in the death of Jack and all those on MH17, as it is senseless.
Against the powerful players in this incident and its aftermath, I feel very small and powerless and naïve. I hold on to the fact that the truth matters… to me and to Jack’s family and friends.
Despite what the conspiracy theorists and trolls say, truth does exist.
I am deeply grateful that this criminal trial is taking place. I follow it here in the evening, via the livestream, for a few hours before bed. Later I read the summaries of that day’s proceedings. I have trust in the thoroughness of the investigations by the JIT, and I have trust in the integrity of this Court. I expect it to shine a light on what happened. Indeed, it already has.
I find myself thinking about all the people responsible for shooting down MH17. I often think about the four accused: Mr Pulatov, Mr Dubinsky, Mr Girkin and Mr Kharchenko. I stared at Mr Pulatov in his interviews with the defence. Whatever their belief in the rightness of their cause, how did they feel when they knew a passenger plane had been shot down, and saw the bodies of the people killed, including 80 children.
I wonder if I will ever be face to face with those responsible, sitting down looking at each other as human beings. I would ask them about their life, their childhood, their family and their own children, their hopes and how they came to that point in their life on July 17th 2014. Then I would talk about Jack, his life, his hopes, our grief which does not diminish. What would I be hoping for in doing this? I’m not sure.
An evil deed has been committed… by the crew who fired the missile, by their military leaders who organised it, and especially by the political leaders who from afar fuelled the conflict and, to meet their own ends, moved people around like pawns on a chessboard.
And the consequence to Jack and all others of their actions is incomprehensible.
We live on the other side of the world from where Jack was killed, but it turns out the world is smaller than we think. Our lives and our fate are not disconnected.
I can speak about the impact of the crime on me, but what about Jack? He has lost the most. He has lost the right to live. Ripped away from him in a moment. Yet this moment required planning and organisation and intent by those responsible. The intent to shoot down a plane and kill.
I do not wish to live in a world where a passenger plane gets shot down, with the death of 298 people, and nothing happens. I do not wish to live in a world where those responsible just shrug their shoulders and say “it had nothing to do with me”.
That is why this trial matters. Revealing the truth is part of justice.
The trial also shines a bright light on the dark and deliberate campaign of denial and disinformation which compounds our grief and anger.
We are living the best we can with the aching emptiness inside from Jack’s absence and the bewilderment and anger about what people have done.
I am thankful to the Court for the opportunity to provide this statement. Jack is now silent, and who will speak for him if I do not.