Melissa Doyle: How Tonya Dwyer is keeping her father's memory alive

“I lost my dad. And my daughter did it.”

The shocking words of Tonya Dwyer … a woman struggling to cope with the loss of two people she loved. Her father viciously murdered by his very own granddaughter, Tonya’s daughter, Brittney.

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Robert Whitwell, 81, was stabbed repeatedly in the neck and chest inside his Adelaide home in August last year. His 20-year-old granddaughter, Brittney, was today sentenced to life in prison for killing him. The judge describing it as a callous and brutal crime.

Tonya and her son, Ryan, are heartbroken. Tonya’s grief is raw and fresh. Her son, Ryan, mourns his grandfather, the role model in his life whose standards, values and traits he lives by.

It takes for a lot a family to speak publicly about something so tragic, but like many who have lost someone they loved so unexpectedly, they want something positive to come from such sadness.

Brittney, Tonya and Ryan in happier times.
Tonya said her daughter deserved life behind bars for her actions.

Tonya and Ryan want Robert to be remembered as a fine gentleman, a charming man with impeccable manners and a comb in the back pocket of his suit. So much more than the victim of a horrific crime... more than the gruesome final moments of his life.

And Tonya desperately wants others to heed her warning. Her father was wary of banks and hid his cash in the back shed. Surprisingly, not an uncommon habit amongst the elderly.
It was this treasure that drew Brittney to kill.

Questions, guilt, confusion and pain. Tonya is experiencing so many different emotions.
It is hard to sit opposite her and watch tears roll down her face as she talks about her father’s death. The futility of it. Her anguish that she didn’t know what her daughter was getting up to. The dark side, the drugs, and the pain that any parent would feel knowing their child couldn’t, or wouldn’t, come to you for help.

Robert walked Tonya down the aisle on her wedding day.

And Ryan is torn up by the lies.... the days he spent consoling his little sister in the aftermath of their beloved Poppa’s death… all the while she hid her guilty secret.

They were a normal loving family, but Tonya and her husband have now split... driven apart, it seems, by their grief and different ways of dealing with it.

They have a long and emotional road ahead. Tonya is yet to see her daughter since her arrest. Brittney has banned her from making contact.

Ryan has spoken to her on the phone but still struggles to reconcile the killer with the girl he grew up with.

Brittney was just a teenager when she committed murder… a girl of only 19. She will now spend the next 21 years behind bars.