It is hard to imagine a greater joy than that in the eyes of Ann O'Neill as they lock on to her 15-month-old son AJ.

Hers is a motherhood tinged by unthinkable violence, which is difficult to describe and almost impossible to understand.

It is 20 years since Dr O'Neill's estranged husband used a pump-action shotgun to kill their children Kyle, 6, and Latisha, 4, before fatally turning the gun on himself.

Trying in vain to save her children, she also suffered a gunshot blast wound, which required half of her right leg to be amputated.

But on revealing her toddler son publicly for the first time, it is clear there is new light illuminating the dark places in her life.

"Life is good, really good," Dr O'Neill said, adding she planned yesterday to privately recognise what would have been Kyle's 26th birthday.

"Obviously there are days that have shadows over them, but it's good. There are no words for any baby, they're a great gift and (AJ's) exactly the same. I think there's another dimension to it, but there aren't words to describe what that feels like."

Dr O'Neill pondered, understandably, whether she would ever be able to master the trust issues that would come with remarrying. It was no easy hurdle to clear.

"It wasn't something I went into lightly," she said.

"I used to joke that to get to this place again I'd have to meet God himself and he'd have to shave. Needless to say, my husband has a beard. He shaved it, but I told him to grow it back. Little people need to be raised in hopefully the best possible environment and I'm fairly confident that I've found that.

"AJ's birth was very celebrated … it was a very special time not just for us, but everyone around us."

Dr O'Neill's angelhands, the agency she founded more than a decade ago to help others affected by homicide and serious personal violence, yesterday co-hosted a Perth symposium featuring some of the world's most prominent victimology identities. It included the angelhands launch of the third annual "$50K in 50 days" fundraising campaign.

The money will be used to fund programs such as the monthly "Hope and Healing" sessions aimed at taking secondary homicide victims past their grief and into an optimistic future.

In that, the most remarkable part of Dr O'Neill's story is her selfless passion to help others in a daily routine that often requires her to relive her horrific past. She said she would feel hypocritical, having given life to her late children, if she did not now live positively for them.

"Early on, I said the only thing to do was live life to the max and not wallow in it . . . it's got me through some tough patches," she said.

"People didn't necessarily know what to do for me but they tried, and the fact they cared was often enough.

"I believe we as a community have an obligation to make our community better. We can blame other people, but ultimately it's up to each and every one of us to do our bit to try to make society as just as possible."

Dr O'Neill once described her life as "red with the hurt, white with the nothingness and blue with the sadness". But her foray back into motherhood has added new hues.

"I have a very technicolour world," she mused.

"I have a very crass saying that the s... we go through is the fertiliser that helps us to grow and blossom tomorrow. I guess for a lot of people who have had extremely traumatic experiences, it teaches you to live in the now and appreciate every moment."

The West Australian

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