Remembering Laeticia: Esperance shark attack, the response from the community in April 2017 and a year later

As we mark a year on from the tragic death of Laeticia Brouwer, the Esperance community has continued to show resilience and compassion as well as determination to prevent future shark attacks.

On April 17, 2017, 17 year-old Mandurah surfer, Laeticia Brouwer, died after being attacked by a Great White Shark at Kelp Beds, east of Wylie Bay.

Local surfer Chris Pope said the response from the town reflected well on the character of the community.

“It showed that we are very much a compassionate group,” he said.

“We were all very sympathetic to the family, they have got a special affiliation with Esperance and we were very conscious of their suffering.

“Especially speaking from a parents point of view, I have a daughter and if anything were to happen to her I would be completely devastated.”

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Mr Pope said the Brouwer family had a strong religious faith and he respected their resolve under trying circumstances.

“It brought a different perspective into how these people remained so strong through their faith and so thankful to the Esperance community,” he said.

“We really respected what they had gone through.”

Just days after the incident Esperance surfers organised a paddle out to coincide with a paddle out tribute in Laeticia’s hometown of Singleton.

Surfer and Esperance paddle out co-organiser Brendan Franzone said the attack resonated with him personally and knew it could have easily happened to him or to someone he knew and loved.

“The day effected everyone in the community,” he said.

“We all have daughters or know people the same age as Laeticia.

“For me, I have my own daughters and have taken them out to teach them how to surf.

“So when that happened, when Laeitica lost her life, we knew that it could have been any one of us.”

Tribute: A paddle out was held to honour Laeticia on April 23, 2017. Photo: Will Creed.

Tribute: A paddle out was held to honour Laeticia on April 23, 2017. Photo: Will Creed.

Mr Franzone said local surfers and the broader Esperance community wanted to show ‘support and solidarity’ with the Brouwer family.

“We do the paddle outs to remember the life of the person who has passed away,” he said.

“She was doing something she loved with her family and it would have shaken everybody in the community.

“That was one way that the community could show support and show love towards them.”

Mr Franzone said the turnout was ‘fantastic’ and included not only surfers, but families and people across the Esperance community as well.

“It was a great show of support and showed the heart and the strength of the community in wanting to get behind and support those who go through something difficult,” he said.

I felt that the community outpouring of grief was quite palpable.

Ocean Safety and Support Group founder Mitchell Capelli said after discussions with the Brouwer family he decided to mark one year since Laeticia died with a minute’s silence at the Whale Tail on Tuesday, April 17.

“I have been in regular contact with the Brouwer family and they have been really supportive of our group and what we have been achieving,” he said.

“I thought it would be a nice gesture for the community to pay their respects and celebrate the loss of a young life, where that loss could have been prevented.

“A bit of publicity that comes out it can only serve our cause positively.”

St John Ambulance community paramedic Paul Gaughan said in the aftermath of the tragedy Esperance was in ‘shock’ at what had occurred. 

“I felt that the community outpouring of grief was quite palpable,” he said.

“Keeping in mind that we had four shark attacks in the last few decades and none of those were fatal, and with the victim being such a young person as well.

“The media frenzy that was attached to it, with TV stations turning up and national broadcasts on the incident and media interviews in front of the police station.

“It was such a high profile event.

“You couldn’t miss it if you were an Esperance local, it was in everyone’s mind for quite an extended period of time.”

Want to read more about shark safety in WA? Click on our related links above to see recent coverage from our journalists Caitlyn Rintoul and Jake Dietsch