Remembering Laeticia: Family stay ‘optimistic about the future’ after tragedy

A year on, the heartbroken parents of shark attack victim Laeticia Brouwer say they’re determined not to let the tragic death of their daughter ruin their family. 

One year ago today, 17-year-old Laeticia stood on Kelp Beds Beach near Esperance, picked up her board and ran into the surf with her father. 

Moments later, Laeticia was attacked by a great white shark and sadly, couldn’t be saved. 

Now, twelve-months on, Leon and Julie Brouwer are desperately trying to celebrate the positives in life, to pull their family through the dark days.

“It has been the toughest journey any family could ever face,” Laeticia’s mother Julie told the Mandurah Mail.

The family, from Singleton near Mandurah, had been holidaying in the scenic coastal town 700 kilometres south-east of Perth, for the Easter long weekend.

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The couple said their faith and close-knit community both in Singleton and at the Free Reformed Church of Baldivis was giving them the strength to pull through.  

“We are overall still optimistic about the future and very determined for this to not ruin us as a family but rather look forward to rebuilding as a different but still very loving and positive family,” she said.

“This has only been possible through our strong faith in God. This faith is very important to us.”

On Tuesday, along the Esperance foreshore, people will gather at the Whale Tail to take one minute of silence, in an attempt to remember the ocean-loving teenager and bring happier memories to the family hit by the tragedy. 

In Singleton, Leon and Julie will hold a private ceremony with family and friends.

Honoured: A plaque containing Laeticia's favourite scripture, etched in metal, at the entrance to the new memorial at Singelton Beach. Photo: Supplied.

Honoured: A plaque containing Laeticia's favourite scripture, etched in metal, at the entrance to the new memorial at Singelton Beach. Photo: Supplied.

A place to remember Teesh

In a place that Laeticia visited often, the family has erected a memorial in her honour.

A look-out with 360-degree views across Singleton Beach offers loved ones, the community and visitors to the suburb a place to sit and reflect on Laeticia’s life.

“It’s a place that Teesh visited often. Now we have a beautiful lookout there, where we can sit and reflect on her life and love of the ocean,” Julie said. 

The project was made possible with help from the City of Rockingham and local businesses, including North Coast Design who played a key role in bringing the structure to life.

“The design was the work of North Coast Designs, who came up with something far better than we had hoped for,” Julie said. 

Singleton Beach is close to the Brouwer family’s home and was a place where Laeticia held fond memories.

“This is close to our home and in a place Teesh loved,” Julie said. 

“The project was only possible with the help of friends, family and our church family, many of whom spent many hours helping build the memorial.”

The memorial look-out idea came from Esperance, where the family has been working with the shire to create a similar spot near Twilight Beach. 

“We started with the idea because a memorial in Esperance… is simply too far away for it to have a great deal of significance to us on a day to day basis,” she said.

Time to sit and reflect: The memorial look-out, erected in Laeticia's honour. The new feature offers 360-degree views across Singleton Beach. Photo: Supplied.

Time to sit and reflect: The memorial look-out, erected in Laeticia's honour. The new feature offers 360-degree views across Singleton Beach. Photo: Supplied.

Small-town girl with a big heart

'Teesh' – as she was affectionately known, was loved by all who knew her. Her death sent a tidal wave of grief through the entire community. 

Despite the shock and sorrow, people rallied to support her family, with hundreds gathered at two separate two paddle outs, one in Singleton and one in Esperance. 

A competent surfer, taking to the water with her dad and sisters Alyssa and Eden was something Laeticia treasured doing.

She also played netball at a local Mandurah club.

Along with the feeling of shock, the horrific incident also sent fear into the hearts of surfers, not just in Singleton and Esperance, but state-wide. 

The couple had built their lives around the coast and often escaped to remote beaches, like the ones near Esperance, for family holidays. 

In the surf: Laeticia Brouwer remains steady and focused as she rides a wave. Photo: Julie Brouwer.

In the surf: Laeticia Brouwer remains steady and focused as she rides a wave. Photo: Julie Brouwer.

A day we’ll never forget

April 17, will now be a date Singleton residents will remember for one horrific reason.

Under grey skies, with the beach looking far from its usual idyllic turquoise water and pristine white sand, the family headed out to the beach for a surf.

Laeticia was believed to have been unconscious when she was pulled from the water about 4pm at Kelp Beds - about three kilometres east of Wylie Bay.

Kelp Beds, also known as "Kelpies", is a popular surf break in a remote area also used for camping and four-wheel driving.

The teenager was seriously mauled on one of her legs in the harrowing situation.

Her mother and two sisters were anxiously watching on from the beach as she was attacked by the shark.

Laeticia was then taken to Esperance Health Campus in a critical condition, where she died shortly after.

The Brouwer family visited Esperance and that beach about four months after the attack, to thank those involved on the day.

We started with the idea because a memorial in Esperance… is simply too far away for it to have a great deal of significance to us on a day to day basis.

Julie Brouwer

“The Esperance community has been amazing,” Julie said.

“Paramedics and police officers and the many volunteers have a tough job and they all supported us so wonderfully during this horrible time in our lives.

“They are a wonderful bunch of people who have been very thoughtful and caring in the way they have treated us and in the way that they have honoured Teesh’s memory. 

“They have supported us so much. We are particularly impressed with the positive action that has come out of this. 

“Mitch Cappelli and many others who have rallied together to form the Ocean Safety and Support Group. 

“[This] has been such an important step forward and a voice for ocean users to try to ensure better management and action on the impact issues around white sharks. 

“We have drawn a lot of strength from the response of the community to us during and around the tragic day. 

“Also [Esperance community paramedic] Paul Gaughan has been an amazing support and inspiration to us through what have been some of our darkest and hardest times. 

“We understand the Esperance community has been affected deeply by what happened however what has come out of this is an amazing display of human spirit, community and care. 

“We can only hope that this also results in positive action to better manage the issue and make our oceans safer in whatever way we can so people can continue to enjoy and share the beautiful south coast area.”

Harrowing final moments: Esperance community paramedic Paul Gaughan with emergency services desperately trying to save Laeticia, as Julie watches on while being comforted by a ambulance office. Photo: Caitlyn Rintoul.

Harrowing final moments: Esperance community paramedic Paul Gaughan with emergency services desperately trying to save Laeticia, as Julie watches on while being comforted by a ambulance office. Photo: Caitlyn Rintoul.

Shock and sorrow as the death hits home

Images of Mr Gaughan and other emergency services personnel trying to save Laeticia Brouwer's life appeared around the world that evening. 

In the weeks that followed, the Mandurah community mourned Laeticia’s death and came together to assist her family, even creating a GoFundMe page

Two paddle outs were held to pay a heartfelt tribute Laeticia, one in Singleton and one in Esperance.

United by the tragedy, more than 70 Esperance surfers formed a circle and, in an old surfing tradition, splashed water into the air.

Hundreds of people lined the man-made groyne and James Street Jetty to watch the sombre vigil.

Frangipanes, Laeticia’s favourite flower, were thrown into the water by attending community members.

Many people taking part wore Laeticia’s favourite colour, turquoise.

Locally, family, friends and community gathered to bade a poignant farewell to the young surfer by throwing flowers into the waves at Singleton Beach and joined together afterward for a candlelit vigil in the sand. 

They were emotional scenes, with tears flowing as family, friends and communities came face-to-face with the reality of the bitter-blow. 

The young surfer was also remembered at a special service at her local church.

Greatly missed by everyone that knew her, Laeticia’s parents have made sure her legacy lives on. 

Tribute: Esperance man Chris Pope gets ready to join hands with fellow surfer Ross Tamlin, at a paddle-out in honour of shark attack victim Laeticia Brouwer. Mr Pope was at Wylie Bay when Laeticia was rushed by, headed for the Esperance Health Campus. Photo: Will Creed.

Tribute: Esperance man Chris Pope gets ready to join hands with fellow surfer Ross Tamlin, at a paddle-out in honour of shark attack victim Laeticia Brouwer. Mr Pope was at Wylie Bay when Laeticia was rushed by, headed for the Esperance Health Campus. Photo: Will Creed.

In their daughter’s name, the family launched a scholarship late last year.  

The first winner of the scholarship was Esperance Anglican Community School student Monisha Nadason.

Leon and Julie said Monisha had been in contact with them and was “very appreciative”. 

“She reminds us of Teesh in her enthusiasm for the ocean and surfing. She has had her surfing lessons through Surfing WA and really enjoyed them,” Julie said. 

“The scholarship is to keep young surfers aware of the needs for safety in the ocean and also to keep Teesh's memory alive. 

“It was also something positive for the Esperance community who were very shaken by the events. 

“We are so appreciative of the support Surfing WA have given us during this time, they have committed to run the scholarship again in 2018 and into the future which is a great thing for us to be involved in.”

Family: Leon, Julie, Alyssa and Eden Brouwer watch from the dunes as tributes flowed at Singleton Beach at a special event held after Laeticia's death. Photos: Marta Pascual Juanola

Family: Leon, Julie, Alyssa and Eden Brouwer watch from the dunes as tributes flowed at Singleton Beach at a special event held after Laeticia's death. Photos: Marta Pascual Juanola

Want to read more about shark safety in WA? Click on our related links above to see recent coverage from our journalists Caitlyn Rintoul and Jake Dietsch.