A young female sports coach at a prestigious Sydney school has been found dead in a school bathroom with severe head injuries, as police desperately search for her male colleague.
Police were called to St Andrew’s Cathedral School on Kent Street in the CBD just before midnight on Wednesday after a family member told police he was concerned for her welfare.
Police discovered a body in the bathroom attached to the gymnasium. Her head injuries made it clear it was a homicide.
The woman has been identified as Lilie James, a beloved waterpolo coach, aged in her early 20s.
Police are now searching for St Andrew’s sports assistant and coach, and former student, Paul Thijssen. She had reportedly dating been dating 24year-old Mr Thijssen for just five weeks but had broken up.
Police are hoping to question the Netherlands-born coach over Ms James’ death, and have established a second crime scene near The Gap at Vaucluse.
According to his LinkedIn page, Mr Thijssen finished his schooling at St Andrew’s in 2017 where he was a sports captain.
Police said there was no indication of a history of domestic violence between the pair.
Detective Superintendent Martin Fileman confirmed investigators found “an item linked to the homicide” in the Vaucluse area. Police reportedly towed away a silver Lexus from the area this morning.
He confirmed staff members were called in after detectives had the “extremely daunting experience” of discovering the body.
“It is apparent from her injuries she’s a victim of homicide. She had serious head injuries. The actual scene itself was quite confronting for the police who turned up,” he said.
Mr Fileman said students also faced a confronting situation when they showed up at school on Thursday morning. Some of those students were required to complete their HSC examinations.
“The fact that we believe the female is an employee of the school and they’re going to be confronted by this when they turn up,” Mr Fileman said.
“We’re currently working with the school to ensure the welfare of the students and they have measures in place to make sure that the students are taken care of.”
The school will be closed on Thursday and Friday, with a message to parents assuring them no students were involved in the incident. “No students were involved and there is no ongoing threat.”
In an update to parents at the school on Thursday, school principal Julie McGonigle confirmed the news.
“You will now know that NSW Police have confirmed at around 12 midnight last night they were called to do a welfare check at the school and found the body of a female in her early 20s. NSW Police suspect this is a staff member, but, as yet, the body has not been formally identified.
“I understand that this is a highly upsetting and concerning update, and I want to reiterate my support for our entire school community ... Counselling support for all students is available.
“HSC and IB exams are continuing ... are not impacted by the NSW Police investigation.”
A crime scene has been established at the school, and dozens of police came and went throughout the day.
An HSC organiser, who arrived to the school to adjudicate HSC exams on Thursday morning, was upset to learn the news. “Oh my god, that’s horrible, I didn’t hear. I don’t stay plugged in 24/7,” he said.
Some staff, clearly in shock, were ushered under police tape into the main building.
Police were seen at the school carrying forensic bags.
“An area of the school, not accessible to students, is a crime zone, and we await the approval of Police before bringing everyone back on site,” the school statement continues.
“The only students onsite are those sitting exams, and we ask that the media does not seek to interrupt their concentration or state of mind as they sit exams that are significant for their graduation.”
“The school has brought our school counsellors onsite for professional support for parents and students as required – and again we ask that the media respects the emotional situation of those seeking support.”
St Andrew’s Cathedral is a private day school for children from Kindergarten to Year 12.
The Anglican school charges tuition fees up to $36,770 a year.
More than 1400 students attend the school, which was founded in 1885 as a choir school for nearby St Andrew’s Cathedral.
It is ranked 157th in NSW in the 2022 HSC, with 660 exams sat by year 12 students and 72 distinguished achievements awarded.
Parents were first told of the incident via text.