Brooklyn Colbert was the apple of his parents' eyes. A placid and kind boy, he made an impression on everyone he met.
But Sonia Aylmer and Wayne Colbert's worlds crumbled in November 2019, when the 11-year-old boy was killed by Patrick Dillon, Ms Aylmer's half-brother.
Dillon (28), of Dalgaish Park, Moyross, Limerick, admitted stabbing Brooklyn 27 times and received the mandatory life sentence in February after pleading guilty to murder.
Aylmer was there for the sentencing, giving a victim impact statement to the court, but said a restriction that prevented her from speaking about Brooklyn for eight months – section 252 of the Children’s Act 2001 – compounded her grief.
“It was like I lost Brooklyn all over again, not being able to speak his name. In fact, it was like he never existed,” she said.
It was a “huge relief” that the restrictions had now been lifted, Aylmer said, as she believes the order preventing the identification of parties in the case served only to protect Dillon.
“When I left the court I wasn’t able to say Brooklyn’s name, or even speak about him. I felt like I had to hide my face as if I had done something wrong, as if I’d committed a crime,” she said.
Aylmer campaigned for a since-introduced amendment to the Children’s Act on behalf of all parents who have lost children in similar circumstances.
“There’s lots of parents like me, who are dealing with the same thing, and who were not able to speak about their children, it’s heartbreaking,” she said.
“Brooklyn was a very placid child, very fun-loving and he would get into mischief but he was funny. Everyone who met him instantly liked him, he just had that aura about him.”
Mother and son shared a close bond, enjoying movies, running and attending fitness and boxing classes together.
“We had a beautiful relationship. Brooklyn was also a very good friend, a good neighbour, protective and kind. He really left a lasting impression on everyone he met.”
After experiencing hard times following Brooklyn's death, Aylmer found solace when she met Kathleen Chada, whose husband Sanjeev murdered their sons Eoghan (10), Ruairí (5), in 2013.
“That’s why it’s very important for other parents to know there is help out there, and that’s why it’s so important our stories are not anonymised.”
Aylmer said she had been left with many unanswered questions as to why her half-brother murdered Brooklyn. The two had “a good relationship”, she said, and Dillon had spent the previous day with them.
“We went for a meal and we dropped him home about midnight and he asked could Brooklyn help him clean out a shed [the following day],” she said.
“Brooklyn went over and had met members of my family a few minutes before he went into this house where this happened, and there was no fear in Brooklyn then. He was happy out, eating sweets. I just still can’t get my head around it.”
Dillon later that day walked into Limerick's Henry Street Garda station and announced "I've killed my nephew", adding that a voice in his head told him to do so. During his sentencing hearing, Mr Justice Michael White said Dillon was guilty of a "horrific breach of trust".
He wrote a letter of apology to the family but Aylmer said she did not accept that he is remorseful. “I don’t know why or how anyone could do something so evil, I’ll never be able to understand it.”
Aylmer plans to organise a support group for families going through a similar ordeal as, despite 2½ years having passed, she still finds it “very, very hard” to believe Brooklyn is gone.
“Some days I tell myself he is in his dad’s house or his nana’s house because it makes it that bit easier.”