Years on from a horrific assault by her own mother, Alicia Terlato is defying the odds. Now, her father is finally free to share his story about how their lives were changed forever.
- EXCLUSIVE: They said she would never walk. She did. They said she would never talk. Now, she chats away to her family, and sings along with The Wiggles. They said she might be blind. But she just loves reading her Peppa Pig books and doing her schoolwork.
She’s the bravest little girl in Australia, and today, after eight years hidden behind the courtroom pseudonym Baby N, she can finally be given her rightful name – Alicia Terlato.
Her father Paul Terlato, from Melbourne, couldn’t be more proud of his eight-year-old, who has a go at every activity her friends and brother Luke, 10, are involved in.
“She’s very happy. She’s always happy and smiley. Even when she’s sick, you never see her without a smile on her face,’’ Paul told News Corp.
“She enjoys her school stuff, she loves it. She likes playing on iPads like any kid does. She has a dollhouse and she loves playing with her dolls. The Wiggles – I don’t even want to talk about Hot Potato.
“I’m so proud of her.’’
Alicia overcame terrible injuries inflicted by her mother in the first few weeks of her life, suffering a fractured skull, collarbone, arm and leg.
Her twin sister Amanda, who was also injured, did not survive, and died in April 2012 on the operating table in hospital at the age of just eight weeks, with a fractured skull and bleeding on the brain.
Their mother Tina Terlato was charged with Amanda’s murder but later pleaded guilty to infanticide, and was sentenced to a community corrections order.
She pleaded guilty to recklessly causing serious injury to Alicia, after an attempted murder charge was downgraded. The court was told she had post-natal depression when the twins were injured over a period of weeks.
Tina Terlato’s name, and those of the children, were suppressed eight years ago by court orders which expired late last year.
Now, Paul Terlato, 45, wants the world to know what his family went through.
He wants an end to awkward conversations when he meets new friends, who are curious about Alicia’s disabilities and ask him how many children he has. He wants to stop protecting the identity of his children’s mother, who he can’t even bear to name.
Mostly, he wants Alicia’s courage recognised, and for his lost angel Amanda to be acknowledged for what she was – a much-loved baby girl and sister, a little soul who lived on this earth for just eight weeks.
“I need people to understand and to hear what we went through and what we are still going through,’’ Paul said. “I don’t think I ever grieved properly.
“To this day it is like Amanda disappeared off the face of the planet.
“She deserved better. Alicia, Luke and myself deserved better.’’
Paul Terlato has opened up about the tragedy that changed his family forever. Picture: Alex Coppel
Paul, who worked as a warehouse manager when the twins were born, is now a single parent, who spends his days caring for Alicia and Luke, and travelling to Alicia’s endless medical appointments.
The attacks on her as a baby have left her with a range of disabilities. She has cerebral palsy, hip dysplasia, asthma, her speech is limited, and she is 18 months to two years behind her school friends in her developmental benchmarks.
But she defied the worst predictions of the doctors, and is not confined to her wheelchair, instead using it only on long, tiring days outside.
She attends grade two at a mainstream primary school, assisted by a teacher’s aide, and she walks between classrooms unaided, saving her walker for use at recess and lunch when she tears about with the other kids.
Alicia told News Corp she could anything – “except a handstand, a backflip and driving a car.’’
She goes to Melbourne Victory soccer games and cheers along with her dad and brother, and during the coronavirus lockdown, has been chatting on video-calls to her little schoolfriends. Along with Luke, she’s planted cauliflowers, broccoli and lettuce in their yard, and loves riding her bike and taking their rescue dog Bailey for walks.
“She’s fantastic. She gives anything and everything a go,’’ Paul said.
Like all siblings, Alicia and Luke annoy each other sometimes. Paul enjoys the sense of normality. He’s also incredibly proud of his son, who is mature beyond his years and looks out for his vulnerable younger sister.
He is also immensely grateful for the support he’s received since the girls were injured, from his immediate family, from lawyers, and from the staff at the Royal Children’s Hospital, who saved Alicia’s life, and fought valiantly to save Amanda’s.
Alicia has some understanding that she once had a sister. She keeps a plaster cast of Amanda’s foot in her room, along with some photos of her tiny twin.
“A couple of times in the last few months she’s actually said she misses her sister but then she asks if Amanda is living somewhere else,’’ Paul said.
“So she doesn’t get the gist of death. I’m not going to explain it to her, she’s too young for that. I want to wait for her to tell me that she’s ready to talk about it.
“Luke understands. The poor bugger, emotionally it kills him.
“Those couple of times Alicia’s spoken about it, it’s been around Luke. He gets upset and he runs into his room and cries because he doesn’t want to hear about it.
“He doesn’t want to talk about his sister because he misses her like crazy. And it’s really hard. When I see how Luke is, it kills me. I’ve become very emotional.’’
Paul and his family have endured a number of legal battles since Amanda died on April 26, 2012, including the Supreme Court hearing, unsuccessful efforts to overturn the suppression order, a coronial inquiry, and a civil proceeding with the City of Moreland, where two maternal health nurses noted the girls had bruising, but failed to cross-reference the reports. Moreland last year reached a confidential settlement with the family, with a fund set up for Alicia’s lifetime care, administered by the Supreme Court.
Sentencing Tina Terlato in 2014, Justice Bernard Bongiorno said: “Although the exact mechanism of the infliction of (Amanda’s) fatal injuries and the infliction of the non-fatal but devastating injuries to (Alicia) is difficult to determine, it is clear that they were inflicted by a loving mother suffering from significant emotional and psychological compromise. Her moral culpability … is either non-existent or of such a low degree as to be negligible.”
The Terlato family fought unsuccessfully to stop Tina Terlato having access to the children. She now has regular access to the children, although this has been paused during the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s like a horror story come to life,’’ Paul said, of a legal system which gave the woman who killed one child and critically injured another visitation rights.
“To this day it will never leave my memory. I still feel like we’ve been treated like the criminals here and she (Tina Terlato) was the poor victim.’’
Paul has moved to the southeastern suburbs to be closer to his family, and made new friends, particularly through the primary school Luke and Alicia attend.
The family went on a cruise to New Zealand earlier this year with two other families with young children – their first overseas holiday. It was the break they all desperately needed.
“I’ve had friends who are no longer friends,’’ Paul said of his life as a single parent.
“I’ve lost my social life. My life revolves around the kids. I wouldn’t have it any other way but this is my life. The kids by 7, 7.30pm at the latest, they’re asleep and I just sit here on the couch watching TV.
“It’s extremely hard, I couldn’t talk to anybody about our story. Particularly when Luke first started prep in early 2016, meeting new parents and meeting new friends, the parents at the school after a while would be like, ‘where’s the mum?’
“I couldn’t tell them anything. It’s almost like I was lying to people when I wasn’t.
“I couldn’t even say there’s a suppression order out there.
“I was sad because I couldn’t talk about Amanda. I am disgusted with the way the legal system is here.’’
When Tina Terlato was sentenced in March 2014, Paul asked the court to lift the suppression order so he could publicly acknowledge his children, and fundraise to assist with Alicia’s medical costs.
The court did not allow it, agreeing instead with Tina Terlato’s lawyer and health workers, who wanted the children to spend time with their mother and said their names must be kept a secret. Tina was instead named by the courts as QPX. Alicia became Baby N. Little Amanda was rendered invisible under the pseudonym Baby M.
“It’s nice that I can finally talk about it,’’ Paul said.
“But it’s hard to continue to talk about it at the same time.’’
When people ask how many children Paul has, he tells them: “I have only two, but I did have three.’’
“I tell them Alicia was a twin but the other one didn’t survive. People feel sorry for you and they’re sympathetic but they don’t understand the full extent of what happened.
“I need people to understand and to hear what we went through and what we are still going through.
“It will be a load off my shoulders. Therapeutically for me and emotionally for me it will be the best thing, that I can talk about it, the girls, some more. I just need to do it.
“They were just a number. Until the suppression order finished anyway.’’
Originally published as ‘Like a horror story’: Father breaks silence over family tragedy