It was a celebration of “vibrant” life cut short as hundreds of mourners gathered at a memorial service to honour and farewell Lilie James, whose death made headlines nationwide last month.
Ms James, 21 was the victim of a brutal murder, found dead in the gym bathroom at St Andrew’s Cathedral School in Sydney’s CBD shortly after midnight on October 25.
Hundreds of mourners dressed in bright clothes at her former high school, Danebank Anglican School for Girls, on Friday morning for the private ceremony.
The service was also livestreamed back to St Andrew’s, where Ms James was a water polo coach before her death.
Her loved ones carried in dozens of lilies to honour the young woman on a day that was “all about her”, according to her father Jamie James, who shared a brief statement after the funeral, which he described as a celebration of her life.
“This day is all about her,” he said.
“She was an independent, vibrant young woman who was always on the go and lived each day to the fullest.
“On top of working and studying, Lilie loved coaching and playing water polo. She loved to dance.
“Even with her busy schedule, she always still made time to support her brother Max, her friends and her family.
“We cannot thank the community enough for their thoughts, prayers, generosity and messages through this difficult time.
“From the bottom of our hearts we thank you for the many great memories we all share with Lilie.
“Lilie James, we are so proud of you and thank you for sharing a wonderful and jam-packed 21-and-a-half years together.”
Friends, family and students wore brightly coloured outfits as they gathered for the service.
Many hugs were shared outside the service, with mourners fighting back tears as they made their way into the school.
Dozens of schoolchildren in uniform from all year groups at St Andrew’s streamed out of a school bus. They waited patiently outside before heading into the building to show their respects to the late water polo coach.
One boy led the group holding a bouquet of flowers in blue, red and yellow, before they were ushered inside the school gate.
Thirty minutes before the crowds began streaming in, the 21-year-old’s coffin was brought in under hushed tones to the school.
Several White Lady funeral directors began the procession, leading her body into the chapel where her loved ones gathered to grieve.
Bouquets of flowers from mourners could be seen just inside the school’s entrance.
NSW Premier Chris Minns was among those paying their respects to the “beloved” young woman.
Dressed in a black suit, the Premier was subdued as he walked the short distance to the school’s entrance.
He didn’t stop to speak to anyone outside the gates, walking quickly to shake hands with the group of people gathered to greet mourners as they made their way to the service
As Mr Minns made his way inside, the group followed him inside the school where the funeral was due to get under way.
About 500 staff, students, and alumni attended the service, with the school, which is just next door, closed for the duration of the day.
It’s understood the decision to hold the service at Danebank Anglican School for Girls was because the schoolteacher was an alumni of the Hurstville school.
Silence fell outside the school as the 21-year-old’s coffin was led out of the school gates.
Her father Jamie and brother Max were among the pallbearers leading the young woman to the white hearse that would take her body to its final resting place.
Her immediate family held each other in the moments when the coffin was placed in the car, each with tears in their eyes as other mourners offered them consolation.
Some of those grieving wiped tears from behind sunglasses as they waited, while others wept openly as they remembered Ms James.
The coffin was covered with countless bright flowers, a tribute to a young woman who has been described repeatedly as vibrant.
It was several minutes before the funeral attendants finished laying all of the wreaths brought by mourners into the car.
Ms James’s loved ones stood beside the hearse, uttering their final goodbyes as they watched it drive away.
After a moment of silence, they rejoined the hundreds gathered inside the school gates for the wake.
‘HORRORS OF EVIL’
Ms James’s death sent shockwaves through the school community, with principal Julie McGonigle telling parents in a letter of the “horrors of evil”.
The water polo coach was reportedly beaten to death with a hammer, with the grim discovery sparking a widespread search for the culprit.
Only days later, police located the body of sports coach Paul Thijssen off cliffs at Vaucluse in Sydney’s eastern suburbs along with his belongings.
Ms James is understood to have broken up with her 24-year-old co-worker, who was seen on CCTV leaving the gym, only days before her death.
The pair are believed to have dated for about five weeks, with the death reigniting concerns about femicide in Sydney and the safety of women.
Ms James had graduated from Danebank in 2020 before going on to become a sports coach at St Andrew’s Cathedral School.