Cuddly, smart, special: Triplets' grieving parents speak

PALOMA MIGONE
Last updated 15:24 31/05/2012
TVNZ

The parents of Kiwi triplets lost in the Doha fire have spoken about their children - Lillie, Willsher and Jackson - for the first time, describing them as cuddly, smart, and very special.

Martin and Jane Weekes
RAW INTERVIEW: Martin and Jane Weekes speak about their triplets.
Weekes triplets - Lillie, Jackson and Willsher
THE WEEKES TRIPLETS: Lillie, Jackson and Willsher.
Lillie, Jackson and Willsher Weekes
THE TRIPLETS: Lillie, Jackson and Willsher Weekes.

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The father of the Kiwi triplets lost in the Doha fire watched rescuers trying to resuscitate his daughter, while he was unable to reach her and hold her.

Martin and Jane Weekes' two-year-olds - Lillie, Willsher and Jackson - died in the fire at Villaggio Mall in the Qatari capital of Doha on Monday.

They were among 19 to die, 13 of them children trapped in the Gympanzee childcare centre.

Overnight the Weekes laid their grief bare in a raw interview, in which they said they were not angry over the tragedy, and planned to return to New Zealand to have a memorial ceremony in Wellington.

They described the horror of seeing Lillie being worked on by paramedics, and having to identify Willsher - known as Winky by the family - and Jackson at the mortuary.

Martin said he was at work when a colleague alerted him to the fire. Knowing the children were at the daycare centre, he called his wife who was at a nearby supermarket.

He rushed to the mall and waited anxiously for any sign of their children.

"Nobody knew really what the situation was inside. They didn't know if the kids were in or if the kids were out. It was very confusing," he said.

"I just wanted to see them come around the corner. I was there for three-and-a-half hours waiting, and then firemen went through the roof."

Then, he saw Lillie's "little skirt and socks".

Rescuers placed her on the ground with four or five other children, and began to perform CPR.

"Jane arrived, I didn't know what to tell her, but I could see Lillie's foot and her little skirt. We were about 20 feet away, we couldn't get closer."

Martin said all the parents just wanted to run to the children, with some trying, but police stopped them.

"They brought Lillie into an ambulance. I thought she was breathing, maybe she was, maybe she wasn't."

Jane got in with Lillie and headed to the hospital, while Martin kept waiting, hoping to see the boys.

"I just waited, waited and waited. And in the end, they started to pack up and I hadn't seen the boys," he said.

He couldn't find them, and so eventually went to meet Jane in hospital.

They waited there for news of their children, including Lillie who was taken way for surgery on arrival.

And then came the horror. The Weekes were asked to the mortuary, to see if they could identify their children.

"They showed me pictures of all the dead children and asked me which were ours," Martin said.

"I could find Lillie and Jackson. I couldn't find Winky."

Staff began to look around the ward to see whether he was being treated, while the bodies of children were still coming in.

About six hours after the fire broke, Martin again asked for his son.

"I asked if there were any bodies still there, and there was one that hadn't been identified," he said.

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Martin went down to the mortuary again, and found him - his golden red hair turned brown by smoke.

"His face was all red from the carbon monoxide - it was Willsher. It was our son."

Martin now hoped to bring his children back to Wellington to rest alongside their favourite toys. They plan to arrive this weekend and have a ceremony by the end of the week.

"We just need to get home and grieve."

The triplets were born prematurely at Wellington Hospital on March 11, 2010.

Jane found out she was pregnant with triplets at five to six weeks, and decided to come back to New Zealand from Qatar to give birth.

"It's a scary thing worrying that you'd be able to carry them long enough to live," she said.

When Jane found out she had pre eclampsia and needed to have a caesarean, Martin raced to New Zealand.

"Despite all the help from the airline and immigration I literally just missed the birth. But I spent so long from that day with those children every day," he said.

"We both just spent so much time together. We were a family that went everywhere we travelled the world like Kiwis, as a family, the five of us.''

Everywhere they went, the children "made everyone happy", he said.

"Wherever they went people would come up in the street and want to be with them, be photographed with them, play with them, talk to them, just talk to them," he said.

"They were very special children."

Jane said they were a handful, with "very different personalities".

"I didn't even know how busy it was really until they started being able to run and climb. To try and watch all three of them all in one go was quite impossible."

Any period of silence was rare and treated as suspicious.

"If there was ever silence, it was rare. They were up to something, generally together," Martin said.

"I don't know how many times, we had to fish things out of the toilet or they would try and help us fish things out of the toilet."

Lillie was the oldest, but the smallest. Though, she didn't let her size get to her as she was the boss.

She was cuddly, sweet, a chatterbox who loved her first doll called "baby Dora".

"Pretty much when she started talking, she didn't stop. Life was commentated by Lillie," Jane said.

Jackson was "probably a little bit too smart," she said. He would sometimes be caught trying to re-wire the house by his father.

"He would take things apart, and sit there and put them back together," Martin said. He also really liked coffee.

"Every morning I would make coffee, he would go and get a spoon and come in and ask for his coffee."

His favourite toy was Tinkerbell, which was initially bought for Lillie but when it came out of the box, he stole it within five seconds.

"They fought in a way I have never seen them fight before, so when they were diverted, we had to hide it until we could order a second one," Jane said.

Willsher couldn't sleep without his bear, a gift from Martin's aunt for each of the children.

"It was really just Winky who really wanted it, so we kept the other two so we could wash them because they chewed on them".

Willsher was "very special". "Everybody loved" him, Martin said. "He was big and gentle."

"And really fast," Jane said.

The children were in the process of graduating from the cot to a bed, but had an unsuccessful test run.

Willsher and Lillie went back to sleeping in cots. While Jackson - or "Mr Sleepy" - was the only one on a bed.

"He was quite civilised in the way he would get up in the morning," Martin said.

The mornings would start with Jackson walking with his blue pillow and Tinkerbell into his parents' room to give them updates - Winky asleep. Winky crying. Get up mummy, and I want milk.

As they were exposed to different cultures in Qatar and had a Nepalese and Filipino nanny, they sometimes put on other accents.

"Jackson was starting to sound quite posh. I don't know where he got that from," Jane said.

Martin believed it was from Thunderbirds, a television show they were addicted to.

The triplets also enjoyed playing with children at Gympanzee.

Jane had decided to put them there about two months ago as she knew the owner and it was close to home.

The centre gave the children an opportunity to run and play as the weather outside was too hot.

"They were really happy," Jane said. "They absolutely loved the people there.

"It's heartbreaking to know that their teachers are gone as well. We know that they wouldn't have let them go, they wouldn't have let them be on their own."

Four teachers and two firefighters were among those killed. Questions have been asked about the mall's evacuation plans and fire protection measures, and yesterday five people were arrested - including the Gympanzee owner, who Jane described as a "wonderful lady".

Martin believed the arrests came too soon.

"You can't hold people accountable without knowing the situation."

When asked how important it was to finding answers, Jane said: "I can't answer that at this time.

"There is too many things to get through in the next little while. That too me is not important at the moment."

The Weekes said messages of support from around the world gave them strength to deal with their tragic loss.

"People we have never met have said the kindest things. Our friends and family have been here and are here, and have done so much."

Jane's parents and Martin's brother arrived in Doha yesterday, and Martin's older children, Natalya and Nikolai were on their way to join them.

Martin said he didn't blame anyone for the children's deaths.

"It's not this country that did it, it's not the people that did it, it's a horrible thing that happened," he said.

- Stuff

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