17 Apr 2024

Bondi Junction stabbing offender Joel Cauchi diagnosed with schizophrenia at 17

12:07 pm on 17 April 2024
NSW Police have identified Queensland man Joel Cauchi as the attacker who stabbed multiple people at Sydney's Westfield Bondi Junction on 13 April, 2024.

Joel Cauchi attacked his victims just five days after inviting people to come surfing. Photo: Supplied / Facebook

Five weeks before Joel Cauchi armed himself with a knife and killed six people in a Bondi shopping centre, he sent his mum a video message.

It was a selfie at Coogee Beach in Sydney's south with the comment, "Mum, I just want to show you how beautiful Coogee Beach [is]".

The mobile message was a welcome reprieve for parents Michele and Andrew Cauchi, both in their 70s, who had been desperately trying to make contact with their youngest child.

In fact, that same day his distressed mother had reached out to his bank.

"I don't want to know what's in his account. I just want to know my son's still alive. Is he still using his account?" Mrs Cauchi had asked.

The family in Toowoomba, west of Brisbane - where Joel Cauchi spent his childhood and university years - breathed a sigh of relief after receiving his message.

Their son was in Sydney, he was alive and seemed to be doing OK.

But after that selfie message marvelling at the beauty of Coogee Beach, the next time Andrew and Michele Cauchi saw their son it was on national television.

The horror unfolds

Like much of the country, the couple was horrified by the news flooding television channels about the attack at the Westfield shopping centre on Saturday.

"I walked in and my wife said, 'It looks like Joel'. I said, 'It does a bit', but he had his head down," Andrew Cauchi said.

"So I watched and watched and watched."

A man with a bollard faces off against a man armed with a knife at Bondi Westfield in Sydney.

Damien Guerot holds a bollard as he confronted Joel Cauchi wielding a knife. Photo: Screenshot

Over and over they scrutinised the footage of a man in football clothes running through the shopping centre at Bondi Junction in Sydney's east, armed with a knife.

Coming to the realisation it was their son, the distraught couple called police.

At 8.30am on Sunday, NSW police announced the man responsible - shot dead by a police inspector inside the shopping centre - was 40-year-old Joel Cauchi from Queensland.

He had fatally stabbed six innocent people at the shopping centre and injured more, including a nine-month-old baby.

The entire country was reeling in shock. So too were Michele and Andrew Cauchi.

They knew their son, who they said had been top of his class at school and graduated from university, was troubled.

But they could not comprehend how or why he could have committed such a dreadful act.

Dating a killer

Neither could Josephine Everson. She first met Cauchi in mid-2019, about the time of her 18th birthday.

They had made contact on a dating site and, despite the age gap, started going on dates.

Everson was living in Toowoomba and they arranged to meet for the first time at a coffee shop at Northpoint Shopping Centre.

They clicked and, for the next five months or so, hung out together.

He took her to places she had never been, like a little place outside Highfields with pumpkins on the fence.

They had coffee at Picnic Point, at the top of the Toowoomba range, overlooking the valley below.

"Everything was perfect. He was the most kind and sweetest person I had met," Everson said of the man she knew back then.

"He was a fun and kind person."

They shared a love of photography and Cauchi helped her with a camera and taught her how to take good pictures.

"He loved taking photographs," Everson said.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese (2nd L), New South Wales Premier Chris Minns (2nd R) and federal member of parliament Allegra Spender (L) leave flowers outside the Westfield Bondi Junction shopping mall in Sydney on April 14, 2024, the day after a 40-year-old knifeman with mental illness roamed the packed shopping centre killing six people and seriously wounding a dozen others. (Photo by DAVID GRAY / AFP)

Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese, second from left, lays flowers near the scene of the attack on Sunday. Photo: AFP

A polite man

Everson tearfully remembered how happy Cauchi was.

"He always had this big smile on his face. He was a joyful person," she said.

She said he was always polite in her company and had met her parents.

"He was respectful towards them [my parents] and my brothers."

Everson had no idea that Cauchi had been diagnosed with mental illness.

She said he never mentioned it or discussed it with her. He told her he was hoping to study to become a teacher.

In October 2019, Cauchi moved to Brisbane to live.

For a while they tried to keep the relationship going, but they ended up going their separate ways.

Ashlee Good, Jade Young and Pikria Darchia were killed in the Sydney mall stabbing.

Ashlee Good, Jade Young, and Pikria Darchia, were killed in the Sydney mall stabbing. The three other victims were Faraz Tahir, who was a security guard at the centre, Dawn Singleton, and Yixuan Cheng, a Chinese national studying in Australia. Photo: Supplied

A medication change

Michele and Andrew Cauchi said their son went off his mental health medication at about that time with the agreement and aid of his treating doctor.

Cauchi had been diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 17.

His mother said he had been under the care of doctors for 18 years.

Cauchi's family said he excelled at school and in 2012 graduated from the University of Southern Queensland with a Bachelor of Arts in international relations and culture and language.

Michele Cauchi said her son's doctor took him off his medication over a number of years, carefully warning him of what might happen.

"When he came off [the medication], it was like it had all lifted from him and he wanted to have a life," she said.

"After living at home until he was 35, he went to Brisbane, so he wasn't with his doctor anymore."

His father said it was a six-month trial with an option to recommence medication if needed.

"He didn't want anyone knowing he has got a mental illness," he said.

"He was embarrassed when I said anything about it and he bolted off to Brisbane and he got a life."

That life included using dating sites during Covid-19 restrictions.

Police cordon off the Westfield Bondi Junction shopping mall after a stabbling incident in Sydney on April 13, 2024. Australian police on April 13 said they had received reports that "multiple people" were stabbed at a busy shopping centre in Sydney. (Photo by David GRAY / AFP)

Police outside Westfield Bondi Junction shopping mall after the attack. Photo: AFP / DAVID GRAY

One Brisbane woman, who matched with Cauchi on Tinder in 2020, remembered chatting with him.

She does not wish to be identified but says she had the impression he wanted to connect with people.

Cauchi was very polite, telling her that he was living in Ascot at the time and that his parents were in Toowoomba.

They shared phone messages about the movies they were watching and the best beaches.

Cauchi was keen to meet in person but it never happened due to pandemic restrictions.

Sleeping rough

Over the next few years he moved between Brisbane, Toowoomba and the Gold Coast and for a period slept rough in his hometown.

Cauchi was turning up for dinner at Tony's Kitchen, a homeless outreach charity in Toowoomba.

Founder Tony Hurle said he understood that Cauchi was sleeping with other rough sleepers at a park near the hospital.

"We never had any issues with him. He was always polite," Hurle said.

"He was very softly spoken from memory. We only knew him as Joel."

By January of 2023, Cauchi rang his father and said he had lost his unit in Brisbane and was about to be homeless. Andrew Cauchi brought him home to Toowoomba.

But he refused to allow his son's United States Army combat knives in the home. He had found about six of them.

"I said to Joel, 'You can stay here as long as you like but you are not going to have these in my house' and so I took them off him, knowing that there was going to be pandemonium in my house but I was willing to put up with it," he said.

His son called police, complaining that his father had stolen his knives.

The next day, Joel Cauchi drove down to Tweed Heads and bought himself another knife.

Andrew Cauchi said his wife thought their son's wish to have knives was for self-protection.

He was often seeking friendship, someone to surf with, share rides with and look around Sydney.

In January this year, he sought someone to help him learn about astrophotography at a dark sky site in Sydney, and in February posted a review about Sydney's Palm Beach, saying it was a beautiful spot with an amazing beach.

On 8 April, just five days before his stabbing attacks, he posted that he was surfing Bondi if anyone wanted to meet for a surf.

'He lost touch with reality'

As police delve into Cauchi's life in a bid to uncover the motivations for the Bondi attack, his distraught parents have apologised for their son's actions and to his victims' families.

"My heart goes out to the people my son has hurt," a tearful Michele Cauchi said this week.

"If he was in his right mind, he would be absolutely devastated by what he has done.

"But he obviously was not in his right mind and he has been somehow triggered into a psychosis and he lost touch with reality.

"Anyone who has got a relative with mental illness will understand medication doesn't make you feel very well.

"There's a condition with a mental illness called anosognosia where the brain is damaged and it doesn't tell you you're sick. So if you don't know you're sick, why would you take medication?"

She urged other families experiencing mental illness to seek support.

The incident is still under police investigation and will be subject to a coronial inquest.

- This story was first published by the ABC

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