There was little pity for escaped inmate Mathew Lothian Tyerman on the streets of Wollongong on January 6, 2021, as the area around his body was sealed off with blue and white tape.
He died in one of the NSW city's least salubrious spots - a concrete driveway at the back of the problem-plagued Piccadilly Centre, with only a street mural and an unflinching security camera for company.
His final minutes were combative. The 37-year-old had managed to disarm a corrective services officer while he was being transferred from Nowra's South Coast Correctional Centre to a medical appointment.
With his wrists handcuffed in front of him, he fired three shots into a truck and a passing police car before retreating to the bleak grey driveway and turning the weapon on himself.
He was a criminal in a green tracksuit to those who shared the tale of the day's dramatic events. But to his mother Deborah, the story of Mathew ran much deeper.
Police knocked on the door of Deborah's home in Western Sydney at 5 o'clock that evening, telling her the son she'd thought troubled but physically safe - because he was in prison, a place he'd been many times before - had died. Deborah screamed and shook. Her home filled with her cries - "Mathew, oh no ... oh no!".
Police officers waited with her until her husband got home. But in the weeks since her son's death, Deborah has spent much time alone in her head, in a state of futile bargaining. If Mathew had only asked for a transfer, he wouldn't have been at X and Y could never have happened, she reasons. If he had gotten medication for his depression - if he had only asked ... if the correctives officer that day had been bigger, stronger. If the holster mechanism had been better.
With a coronial inquest and police and departmental inquiries ongoing, many of Deborah's questions about what went wrong on January 6 remain unanswered.
Why was Mathew not considered "high risk" and transferred with greater protections in place? Why is it procedure for transfering officers to have only one gun between the two of them? Why enlist a small-statured female for the job of guarding Mathew that day? Why weren't his hands behind his back, making it impossible for him to disarm anyone?
"My niece went down to the place where Mathew shot himself and put a cross there with his name and flowers," Deborah told the Mercury.
"That was a very nice thing that my niece did, but to think that that spot is all I'm left with now ... It was really hard to stand there. I've never felt a sadness like it, knowing that happened to him there and that it was such a brutal, violent way to die, knowing that I'll never see him again in my life. I'll never speak to him again.
"Because he was in the justice system when this happened, they had a duty of care to take him to this medical assessment and get him back to jail without this happening. They failed in this duty of care and these are the consequences."
Who was Mathew?
Deborah says Mathew was a normal, happy child - into karate and soccer. She said he had a heart of gold, but was troubled by depression and began using drugs as a teenager, to self-medicate.
"The drugs. It just got worse," she said. "He was trying to take the drugs to escape the depression - always that depression and self-doubt. I could never do anything about it."
Mathew was on parole for assault occasioning actual bodily harm when he was accused of domestic violence offences against an unidentified woman about five months before he died. He was returned to prison and was due to face court in February, having pleaded not guilty to those allegations.
Those who know Mathew say they cannot imagine him doing what he is accused of, or firing a gun into a street.
He made several serious attempts at kicking drugs. More than anything he wanted to get clean for the pretty girl next door who became the love of his life, Elysia Rowney.
They were a novelty to one another. He boldly asked for her phone number soon after she became his neighbour in 2011. She had never been around someone who used drugs before and would Google his behaviours. She was struck by how open he was about the type of life he led, his sweetness, vulnerability and ability to befriend lots of people from all walks of life.
She would help him find space in his head when he would overthink things.
"I've never met a straight girl before," he'd tell her, and seemed to marvel at the world of "normal things" she gave him access to, like staying in and cooking dinner.
Their romantic relationship didn't last but they remained best friends.
He arrived at her door once in 2016, distraught about a recent failed stint in rehab.
"He was bawling his eyes out, crying hysterically," Elysia said. "He said, 'I really want to be there, but I feel like I'm in the 'too hard' basket'."
Elysia believes Mathew became institutionalised after spending so much of his life in jail. She couldn't always help him, and there were times when she simply could not be around him.
"I didn't think he was going to be in jail very long this time. I just thought I'd give him some time to dry out. It's kind of like pushing the reset button, every time he goes in there. I'm just waiting for the call - 'hey I'm out, can I come see you?'
"I've been going through my text messages at the time and I was pushing him away at that time because he was in a bad way, and I just wasn't in the right place myself to deal with it. I've got a lot of regrets about not reaching out to him this time. He probably felt very alone."
'This should never happen again'
Deborah is hoping her son's death will lead to a changes in the way prisoners are transferred and a better system for identifying and treating mental illness in jail.
"I just don't want to think that this would happen to any other inmate," she said.
Those closest to Mathew say he was not being medicated for his depression while in jail. They believe this is because the system would have required him to expressly ask for help, a move at odds with the hard exterior he needed to maintain on the inside.
"He was paranoid - that was his reality. If that's his reality, how is he supposed to say, 'hey, I need this'. It's also a sign of weakness in that environment to go and seek support," Elysia said.
Wollongong criminal lawyer Matt Ward said many of his incarcerated clients had mental health issues, and they often waited long periods for any kind of help.
"This is often in the context of it being their fist time in jail, which can often compound underlying mental health issues," he said.
"Whilst Corrective Services and Justice Health have systems in place to screen and treat mental health conditions, my observations are that they are under resourced and stretched thin. Many inmates, after initially being screened or reviewed, wait a long time to see mental health professionals or get prescribed their medication.
"The treatment provided can often, frustratingly, vary between the jail in which the inmate is housed.
He believes greater funding is needed for Justice Health to cover more dedicated mental health nurses, psychologists and psychiatrists.
"Whilst many of these inmates are charged with serious offences, we as a community want them to receive an adequate level of mental health treatment, as it is one factor which may impact their risk of further offending," he said.
The day of the shooting
Deborah has been told Matthew spent six weeks in a prison medical clinic in the lead-up to January 6. She understands he had been attacked in jail and was recovering from "severe injuries" including a broken cheekbone. During his medical transfer, a doctor was expected to sign-off on the clearance that would allow him to be returned to the general prison population.
Those closest are divided on whether he could have been feeling trepidation or relief at the prospect of returning to general.
COVID restrictions and a torn calf muscle prevented Deborah from travelling to the Nowra jail during Mathew's time there. She spoke to him on the phone often but it wasn't the same as sitting with him for an hour of visiting, and she believes his isolation contributed to his low mood.
"I wanted him to call me every day because I could feel there was a sadness with him," she said.
"I said please call me - five times a day - just call me, call me please. It wasn't always possible in jail.
"He said one day, 'I don't have anything to live for'. I said, 'but you have everything to live for Mathew'. This is depression."
On the phone, Mathew didn't always give much away. His mother only learned of his broken cheekbone about four weeks after it happened, when he mentioned he was going for an x-ray.
"He didn't tell me much when I spoke to him but he never did really because he didn't want to worry me. Mathew suffered in silence. He never complained."
On January 6 Mathew spoke to his mother at 7.30am and again at about 10am, making no mention of the trip he was to take to Wollongong in about an hour, possibly because he hadn't been told he was going.
Deborah tried to lift his mood by talking about her puppies. She succeeded a little and Mathew laughed at something one of the dogs had done.
Before he hung up, he told her he loved her. Less than two hours later, he was dead.
Of the bullets Mathew fired into the street, one pierced the back of a soft-sided truck and another went through the windscreen of a police car.
Elysia has repeatedly watched blurry online video footage showing Mathew, gun in hands, in the moments before he died. She and Deborah believe he was acting out of panic and regret when he fired his final shot.
"Just knowing him, he looked like he was panicking - 'I'm in too deep now'," she said. "I don't think he could live with himself if he knew he had hurt someone, so he might have thought he had hurt someone at that point."
Elysia has made several visits to Mathew's driveway memorial.
She doesn't normally smoke but brings a pouch of the tobacco Mathew favoured - White Ox - and lights a candle in the shadows.
"Every time I go, I'll smoke a cigarette with him," she said.
"It's not a nice-looking place, the last place that he was. He was cremated so there's nowhere else to really visit. I feel a bit connected to him, going there."
"I never imagined this would be the way Mathew would die."
Lifeline operates a 24/7 crisis support service for anyone who needs it, on 13 11 14. If you don't want to talk, consider using the Lifeline Text, available from 6pm to midnight: 0477 131 114
Other resources include:
Suicide Call Back Service - 1300 659 467
MensLine Australia - 1300 78 99 78
Kids Helpline - 1800 55 1800 (5-25 year olds)
NSW Rape Crisis Line - 1800 424 017
1800 RESPECT - 1800 737 732 (sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service)
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