News and Views
Couple with two disabled children die in ‘suicide pact’
- Police called to home of Jan and Julia Tshabalala on Christmas morning
- Relative and neighbour discovered couple’s bodies in West Sussex house
- Their two children, who had disabilities, were not at home at the time
- Hours earlier the children had Christmas dinner with their parents
- Thought that the couple were found dead after an apparent suicide pact
A couple found dead at their home had a Christmas dinner with their disabled children before killing themselves, friends said.
Julia and Jan Tshabalala had their family meal a day early on Christmas Eve, then sent their two young children to stay with relatives.
The next morning they were found dead in an apparent suicide pact.
Neighbours said they had seemed to be a ‘nice happy family’. The couple’s daughter, Serena, had cerebral palsy, although she did not need a wheelchair, while their son, Junior, had learning difficulties.
‘They were very nice people,’ said their next-door neighbour, who asked not to be named. ‘We used to receive Christmas cards from them. They were a very private couple, but we would always speak to them over the fence. They always seemed like a happy couple, but you never really know do you?’
Police visited the rented £150,000 home in Billingshurst, West Sussex, on Christmas Day after a relative went to the house just after 9am. He apparently looked through a window and saw Jan, 33, who worked as a carer, hanging in a room. His wife Julia, in her 30s, was also dead inside.
Yesterday, the couple’s white Kia 4×4 was outside their home, and a police officer was seen feeding the family’s pet rabbits.
Their children, thought to be aged between four and seven, go to a local school specialising in learning difficulties.
Police outside the West Sussex home where the parents of two young children were found dead yesterday
Residents said that the situation was ‘absolutely awful’. There were rumours the couple had been in financial trouble, although friends dismissed the idea.
One neighbour said: ‘I’d see the man in his front garden sometimes and he would wave. She was a good mother, I would see her at the swings in the park with her kids. They were completely normal and pleasant.’
Another said: ‘I last saw Julia on Christmas Eve and she seemed happy. Julia didn’t work and just looked after the kids. The little girl has cerebral palsy – she’s a lovely little girl, very quiet. And the boy has learning difficulties too. But she never said she was struggling.’
A third said: ‘I was the one who got in and found them. It’s been a real shock.’
Another said: ‘I heard from other neighbours that they had financial worries. I am in absolute shock and how tragic for the children.’
The couple were both declared dead at the scene. Sussex Police said post-mortem examinations will be carried out and it was not clear whether Mrs Tshabalala suffered injuries or was suffocated.
Police sealed off the house but declined to reveal if suicide notes had been found, saying: ‘Officers are working to establish the circumstances of the death but are not looking for anyone else in connection with this incident.’
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