By Marta Pascual Juanola, Najma Sambul and Erin Pearson
Awatif Ring and granddaughter Achel Myek Ring, with a photo of Achel’s father Myek Ring.Credit:Justin McManus
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In the quiet of a relative’s living room, seven-year-old Achel Myek Ring sits by her grandmother’s side, clasping a large framed picture of her slain father.
It has been four months since Myek Ring, 32, was stabbed in Melbourne’s north-west, and his absence is felt in every aspect of his family’s life.
Police at the scene of the stabbing in St Albans. Credit:Nine News
Achel is too young to grasp the enormity of her loss, but she knows her father’s murder means they will no longer be able to play basketball together, a sport he loved and taught her how to play.
“I beat him in basketball,” she says. “He didn’t let me win, I just won.”
Myek, a doting father and avid sportsman, used to play for the Longhorns, a South Sudanese basketball club headquartered in the city’s west.
He was at a barbecue in St Albans on December 30 when an altercation broke out with a group of men, and he was fatally wounded.
The Age has spoken to the loved ones of numerous young men stabbed in attacks across Melbourne to understand the impact the surge in violence has had on their lives.
Hospital admissions related to knife assaults have more than doubled in under three years, with an average of two people a day arriving at state emergency departments with stab wounds.
Myek Ring loved playing basketball and spending time with his daughter.
Children and young adults are increasingly getting caught in the violence, which is often linked to street gangs, rivalries between groups of kids or petty disputes that quickly turn deadly in a time when carrying a knife has become common among the young.
Myek’s grieving mother, Awatif Ring, says she is still coming to terms with the tragedy.
“It’s very hard, everybody loved Myek,” she says. “I pray for him every night.”
From the internet bill to car registration, Myek took responsibility for life’s necessities for his mother, with whom he had been living until his death.
The violent nature of Myek’s murder shocked the family, who say he was never involved in physical fights growing up and was a non-violent person.
“He was not a fighter,” says ex-wife Lydia Manongwa.
“To leave a seven-year-old child behind who doesn’t even understand how to process the feelings is hard. I just have to be strong because I’m the only parent for my daughter.”
On the day of his death, both Myek and his mother had been in St Albans for social gatherings, but Awatif left earlier. She sensed something was wrong when her son didn’t answer his phone later in the evening.
When she received a phone call from police, she rushed to Sunshine hospital but Myek had already died, and she wasn’t allowed to view the body.
“I need to check my son,” she repeated desperately to hospital staff. It would be more than two weeks until she saw him again.
Police later charged Malwal Aweng, 23, with murder, intentionally causing injury and breaching bail in connection to the attack. He will appear in court in May.
Machar Kot and Kon Kot
Brothers Kon Kot (left) and Machar Kot were both killed in Melbourne six months apart.Credit:Twitter/LanaMurphy
As Antipas Kooc sat metres away from his son’s killer in the Supreme Court of Victoria in March, he covered his face with both hands to dab away the tears. It was the cruellest kind of deja vu.
In June 2022, Kooc and his family sat inside the same court, in front of the same judge, as they waited for a jury to determine the fate of the man who had stabbed his other son to death outside a CBD hotel.
Most parents will never have to experience the pain of losing a child to senseless street violence. But Kooc, who came to Australia from South Sudan to give his children a better life, has experienced that heartbreak twice.
His son, Machar Kot, 21, died in hospital after being stabbed in the heart outside the Oaks Melbourne hotel in the CBD in June 2020. His attacker, who had been released on bail weeks earlier, believed Machar had called him a snitch online.
Kooc says the family learnt Machar had been killed while watching the TV news that morning.
Less than six months later, on December 2020, brother Kon Kot, 24, was fatally stabbed outside a Hungry Jack’s restaurant in Caroline Springs after coming to the aid of his younger brother during an argument about headphones.
Machar’s killer, Marco Deng, was found guilty of murder and sentenced to a minimum of 14 years in jail in December. James Makir, 26, has pleaded guilty to Kon’s manslaughter and is awaiting sentencing.
Both of his sons were intelligent and kind men who were studying at university and had the world at their feet, Kooc says.
Antipas Kooc (left) and Anhail Kot leaving the Supreme Court of Victoria in March.Credit:AAP
“They just lost their lives suddenly and without a proper cause,” Kooc says. “I came to this country to educate them, to get a better life, and in the end, they died. Two of them.”
Kooc, who has since joined a grassroots committee in Melbourne’s north-west that is working with police, schools and youth justice workers to prevent further stabbings, says action needs to be taken to protect young people.
“We say the police and the government have a hand in this. They are not controlling the situation,” he says.
Kooc wants increased patrols around shopping centres, retail strips and train stations to stop youth from congregating in public spaces, and funding for grassroots organisations working to tackle local crime in the community.
”The community, we are scared now, we don’t sleep at night. They break into people’s houses,” he says. “We don’t believe that our children will come back alive. When they are out, we are worried.”
Lisa Tirant is quick to acknowledge she is extraordinarily lucky. Unlike the loved ones of other families affected by the wave of knife violence, her teenage son, Ethan Tirant, survived.
A 13-year-old boy plunged a kitchen knife into Ethan’s chest in January last year, after he told a group of teenagers at a KFC in Pakenham to stop making obscene gestures at his girlfriend.
Surgeons later told the family Ethan had been one millimetre from death.
Ethan Tirant after undergoing emergency open-heart surgery at The Alfred hospital.
Charges against his attacker were withdrawn earlier this year after a magistrate found the 13-year-old was too young to understand the consequences of his actions. Lisa Tirant says the family was heartbroken.
“It just makes you so angry what we have to go through and what our son has to go through,” she says. “He’s got a reminder every day on his chest when he showers or takes his shirt off that he did no wrong. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Tirant says Ethan, an active teenager and two-time boxing champion who loved spending time outdoors fishing and riding his motorbike, is struggling to come to terms with what happened.
“He’s not the same boy as when he left here on January 10 last year,” she says.
Tirant opposes the government’s move to raise the age of criminal responsibility in Victoria, which will be lifted from 10 to 12 initially, then to 14 within four years. That move is supported by many legal experts and community organisations and has been cautiously supported by this masthead.
At the moment, children as young as 10 can be charged with a crime, sentenced and imprisoned in juvenile detention, as long as they are found to be capable of understanding they should not commit the offence.
“If you are going to carry a knife I don’t care what age you are,” Tirant says.
“We want justice. I feel angry, I feel frustrated, I feel sick.”
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