After losing his wife and 11-month-old son in a fire, days before what would have been his first Father’s Day, John O'Brien explains how he was able to rebuild his life.
In 2014, a deliberately-lit fire tore through a ground floor convenience store in Rozelle and adjoining buildings in Sydney’s inner-west.
In the early hours of that morning, before the fire, Mr O’Brien left for work early, leaving behind his wife, Bianka and their son, Jude.
Ever since that awful day he has blamed himself for not being there to save his family.
"You hear all those heroics about people saving people from burning buildings and you are like, I could have done that, or at least die trying - so yeah, sure, you do and I did blame myself for a fair while," he told A Current Affair.
The fire was started by Adeel Ahmad Khan on September 4.
Khan was found among the rubble after the fire, yet at trial, the court heard Khan placed as many as 10 containers of fuel around his convenience store, using a fuel soaked cloth and cigarette light to set the store alight.
Before lighting the fire, Khan upped his insurance coverage. He was behind on his rent and about $375,000 in debt.
The fire didn’t just kill Bianka and Jude, but their neighbour Chris Noble.
Khan was eventually sentenced to 40 years in prison for the murder of Noble and the manslaughter of Bianka and Jude.
Speaking to A Current Affair, Mr O’Brien said the conviction meant little to him, but hate “doesn’t get you anywhere”.
Mr O’Brien said his wife and child were his “meaning” in life. Following their deaths he admitted he was a “mess”.
When Father’s Day rolled around just a few days after the fire, he didn’t even realise what day it was. Instead of celebrating being a dad, he was preparing a statement.
After seeing the news in the paper of what happened to Mr O’Brien, a friend who worked as a journalist for the police reached out.
“I said ‘Oh, hi, it’s Michelle. How are you?’ and I’m like, that’s a stupid question and I remember fumbling my words, not knowing what to say to him,” Michelle Minehan recalled to A Current Affair.
Ms Minehan then helped the grief-stricken man put together statements about his wife and son.
Although he admits he will “never be the same again”, Mr O’Brien has been able to rebuild his life, with Ms Minehan.
He added that the most difficult part of the aftermath of the fire was grappling with the concept of ‘turning a page’.
The pair are now married with two children - Abby and Millie.
Although the two have been together for sometime, Michelle admitted on A Current Affair, her husband has only recently been able to “continue”.
“No one can put themselves in his shoes,” she said.
“For him to constantly have such a positive outlook and to make sure everyone else around him isn’t affected by it and everyone else is okay, that’s his main priority always.”
Ms Minehan said sometimes it is hard for her to reconcile how happy she is, knowing her new life and family is because people died.
Now Mr O’Brien is giving back to the people who helped him. He and his wife are having a fundraiser to help build the Homicide Victims Support Group centre - called Grace’s Place.
After the fire, Mr O’Brien found support with the Homicide Victim's Support Group and stayed in their respite home in Sydney’s south.
“As soon as I start moving, in that direction, you start focusing again on what you need to do to get yourself right,” he told A Current Affair.
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