Police are hunting for a “despicable, spineless” thief after fundraising money for a four-year-old autistic boy was stolen from his father’s funeral at a Melbourne church.
The money, estimated to amount to around $4,000, was snatched up by a tattooed man as the dead man’s casket was being carried from the Avondale Heights church last Friday.
Relatives of Kai, 4, have described the thief’s actions as “despicable” and “heartless”, with police saying it was “beyond the pale”.
“How a person could rob a four-year-old boy while his hero lied (sic) in a coffin – I’m not sure even with years to come if I could ever remember (Shane’s) funeral with anything else except that somebody committed this despicable act,” Shane’s brother Kevin told a press conference today.
The boy’s father Shane died unexpectedly at just 43 years old. His family have described making the “heartbreaking” decision to turn off his life support a week after he suffered a severe asthma attack on New Year’s Eve.
Four-year-old Kai has high range autism and is non-verbal. The funds were intended to provide for his ongoing specialist care and to assist his mum Julie raise him and his brother.
“Shane’s partner Julie has now got the daunting task of life without Shane and having to raise both Kai and her other son alone, so we were just were hoping to be able to help and support her,” Shane’s sister-in-law Kristy said today.
“We just have no words really.”
The unknown and uninvited man was captured on CCTV loitering in the church’s foyer and speaking to funeral attendees as he eyed off the money, which was in donation envelopes at the front of the church.
As Shane’s casket was being carried from the church, the thief used the opportunity while grieving friends and relatives were distracted to grab the cash.
The alleged thief has been described by police as being of Caucasian appearance, aged in his 50s and about 175cm tall, with receding grey hair and tattoos around his left upper arm.
At the time of the offence he was wearing a dark-coloured polo shirt, blue jeans and black sneakers with white accents.
Even more disturbingly, police believe it is not the first funeral this man has targeted.
Money was stolen from a church donation box during a funeral service in the Melbourne suburb of Bundoora on November 15 by a man matching this thief’s description.
During that robbery, police have been told the man entered the church with the funeral procession and took the donation box from the sign-in table.
“A line of enquiry we are pursuing is that the offender is targeting funerals where there has been a request for donations in lieu of flowers in the funeral notice,” First Constable Belinda Petrovska said.
“It’s disgusting this man is targeting grieving people at their most vulnerable.”
Kai’s family have given up hope of getting back the stolen donation money. Now, they simply want justice to be done – and to ensure that no other grieving families have to experience what they’ve gone through.