Sonya Leeding admits she never really thought too much about the risk of being a Police officer after she joined the Queensland Police Service.
She and her detective husband Damian had never even had a conversation about it either.
But ten years ago today Sonya received a late-night knock on the door that she knew wasn’t good. A knock that she was familiar with, having delivered the kind of news she was about to receive.
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Detective Senior Constable Damian Leeding and his partner were responding to reports of an armed robbery at Pacific Pines Tavern on the night of May 29, 2011.
Three masked people had reportedly stormed the tavern and were holding seven people hostage, threatening to shoot them.
Detective Senior Constable Leeding was one of the first officers on the scene.
The 34-year-old approached the tavern, coming face first with one of the robbers who was trying to flee.
He was shot in the face and was critically injured.
Damian was rushed to the Gold Coast University Hospital and underwent emergency surgery but died three days later.
To mark the anniversary, Damian’s widow Sonya, herself a Police officer, has opened up in a video released by Queensland Police about the night of the shooting and how her life has changed ever since her ‘larrikin’ husband was killed.
Sonya says she remembers vividly the knock on the door the night of the shooting and knowing something was wrong as soon as she saw senior Police standing outside.
“I could see Inspector Gary Pettiford in full uniform and I thought ‘nup’, I’m not opening it,” Ms Leeding said.
“He sat me down and told me Damian had been shot and I said ‘where’ hoping that it was his leg or something, or an arm, something we can live without.
“He said ‘I don’t know, I can’t tell you that, I don’t know where he’s been shot.'”
Sonya says she remembers then going into ‘Police mode’ quizzing senior officers about who might have been responsible.
That quickly switched to panic mode as the enormity of the situation set in.
Sonya was rushed to the hospital where Damian was undergoing emergency surgery.
The intensive care unit of the hospital was a place Sonya had been many times before as part of her job.
But she says knowing she was going there to see her own husband was “pretty horrific.”
“I remember (Assistant Commissioner) Mr Wilson and (Commissioner) Mr Atkinson on either side of me up the hallway and I was, I don’t want to do this because I suppose once you do this it’s real.
“Once you see what’s left it’s real.”
“The surgeon came down and told us the extent of his injuries, it wasn’t until then that we realised quite how bad it was.
“Up until that point, I was probably a little bit stubborn and thought ‘oh no I can deal with this myself you know I’ll organise the kids and we’ll just go to the hospital sort Damian out and we’ll all come home, it’ll be fine.
“The shock of that was pretty hard to hear.”
Damian died in hospital on June 1, 2011.
Sonya has described this year’s anniversary as “different.”
“Usually, the rollercoaster of emotions start in May because our wedding anniversary is the 6th of May so it’s always an interesting start.
“I suppose because it’s ten years, the kids are ten years older, Grace was only four months old when he passed away and Hudson’s nearly 12 so I’m dealing with kids that know what’s going on who are very aware of what’s going on and are very aware of life without their dad.
“So I think this year’s probably brought it home a bit more, that we’re still without him. Life’s changed a fair bit for us, as it does but, yeah, we’re good.”
Sonya admits the last ten years have not been easy.
But she says her children “keep her going” and the Police ‘family’ have given enormous support.
She received her detective’s appointment last year and is back working full-time.
“I’ve also got a job that I really love as well so it’s been a bit of a battle to get there but at the end of the day I’m where I love working career-wise, the kids are happy, and I couldn’t want for anything more”