News

Shepparton mourns death of Laa Chol

By Tara Whitsed

The Shepparton South Sudanese community is heartbroken following the death of former Shepparton resident Laa Chol in Melbourne last week.

Ms Chol, 19, grew up in Shepparton, where she attended McGuire College and was an integral member of the Shepparton Soccer Club.

Ms Chol was fatally assaulted at a short-term rental apartment on the 56th floor of the EQ Tower early Saturday, allegedly during a dispute involving two groups of party goers.

Shepparton’s Akuot Wundit, a close friend of Ms Chol’s growing up, felt horrible when she heard the news her former teammate and radiant member of the Shepparton community had been killed.

‘‘She’s someone who’s always bubbly, she’s charismatic and had a good sense of humour,’’ Ms Wundit said.

The pair spent time together in a church choir and youth group where Ms Chol would always ‘‘lighten up the mood’’.

‘‘She was always positive,’’ Ms Wundit said.

‘‘She was caring and respectful of others. She was a genuine person too; she didn’t like being fake.’’

Ms Chol’s mother Ojwanga Abalo reiterated the comments when speaking to a metropolitan newspaper: ‘‘I’m speechless...I don’t know what I’m going to do without her.

‘‘Just whenever you saw her, it was a happy moment...there were no sad moments.’’

Ms Wundit remembered a young girl who was incredibly talented.

‘‘She loved dancing; she was a really good dancer,’’ she said.

‘‘Even at church when we wanted to do a dance, she’d always know what to do.

‘‘She was a good singer too.’’

Ms Wundit said it had been incredibly difficult since Ms Chol’s death.

‘‘The hardest part is all the memories we have here,’’ she said.

But Ms Wundit said it had also been hard to deal with the politicisation of the death.

‘‘It made me feel unsafe as a woman, as an African woman,’’ she said.

Ms Chol’s death came just days after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull weighed in to the debate about crime among African-Australian youth in Melbourne, saying ‘‘you are not going to make it go away by pretending it doesn’t exist’’.

But Victorian Police Commander Stuart Bateson told 3AW radio on Monday it was a tragic death and there was no suggestion her death was related to gangs and nor was she a gang member.

‘‘There is widespread grief (among the community) and a widespread desire to bring the perpetrators to justice,’’ he said, calling for calm.

Ms Wundit was hurt her friend’s death had become another story and there was little focus on the tragedy that had taken place.

‘‘It’s something that needs to change,’’ she said.

‘‘No-one is going to feel okay to live in this country if it doesn’t.’’

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews told ABC radio on Monday that Ms Chol’s family deserved better than what they had been given during these past 12 or 24 hours.

A boy, 17, has been charged with the death.

Plans to commemorate Ms Chol’s life at a service are being finalised.