Young Cyclone Debbie survivor leads mourners at service of Kiwi mum

By Rachel Eddie

The funeral for Stephanie King, 43, her son Jacob, seven, and daughter Ella Jane, 11, is pictured. The surviving child, Chloe, is pictured at the funeral. Photo / News Corp Australia
The funeral for Stephanie King, 43, her son Jacob, seven, and daughter Ella Jane, 11, is pictured. The surviving child, Chloe, is pictured at the funeral. Photo / News Corp Australia

Brave beyond her years and with the admiration of hundreds of mourners gathered inside the church, Chloe-May Kabealo arrived at the funeral service of her New Zealand mother Stephanie King, and siblings Ella-Jane and Jacob.

The young girl, 8, was greeted by friends who cuddled her before Chloe-May and her dad Matthew made their way into Elevations Church in Tweed Heads.

Chloe-May incredibly managed to free herself from her family's sinking car, when it slid off a muddy road at Tumbulgum last week and plunged into Tweed River, reports Daily Mail.

She ran to a nearby house to raise the alarm that her family was trapped inside their Hyundai.

Tragically, her mum and siblings could not free themselves in time and drowned.

Among the mourners at the funeral service are the Governor-General of Australia Peter Cosgrove, who is there to pay his respects to the family.

Ms King "would be alive today" if she had not tried to free her young children from the murky depths of the river, New South Wales Police Superintendent Wayne Starling said last week.

"I can tell you the mother was trying to get one of her children out of the car when she passed away. She was with the child, holding the child," he said.

She was found cradling her son Jacob when their car was pulled from the river.

Supt Starling said the mother was a "hero".

"She died trying to save a child. I've got no doubt whatsoever that that woman is a hero. She'd be alive today if she wasn't trying to save her children,' he said.

"We can't imagine what the family are going through. We can't imagine what their school friends are going through. It's just horrific."

A small, lilac coffin arrives at the funeral. Photo / News Corp Australia
A small, lilac coffin arrives at the funeral. Photo / News Corp Australia

He added that there were "terrible conditions" on the flood-affected road on Monday afternoon, when the car veered into the water.

"The roadway is very very slippery," Supt Starling said. "Even now it's not safe to put the crane in to get the car out."

Sending his condolences, he added: "We can't imagine what the family are going through. We can't imagine what their school friends are going through. It's just horrific."

Superintendent Starling added that Chloe-May was a "very brave little girl".

"She had injuries to her feet, trying to get out. Her main focus was trying to save her mum, her brother and sister.

"I wouldn't be surprised if the mother helped her out," he added.

Former policeman Matthew Grinham was driving by the flood-swollen river in Tumbulgum when Chloe-May came running up the road, screaming hysterically.

Witness Sophie Grinham told 7 News that she saw the the eight-year-old girl's father dive into the water in an attempt to save his family.

"The husband came down, and dad and two other boys just jumped into the water and couldn't dive deep enough," she said.

Stephanie King 43, of Bilambil, with her seven-year-old son Jacob Kabealo and her 11-year-old daughter Ella-Jane Kabealo (right). Eight-year-old daughter Chloe is left. Photo / Supplied via Facebook
Stephanie King 43, of Bilambil, with her seven-year-old son Jacob Kabealo and her 11-year-old daughter Ella-Jane Kabealo (right). Eight-year-old daughter Chloe is left. Photo / Supplied via Facebook

The girl reportedly told police that her mother, younger sister and older brother were in the car.

Peter Taylor, another witness, told 9News: "A little girl's run down the road and she's said her family's gone into the river.

"Her feet were bleeding apparently. Then they called the ambulance and called the police."

Chloe was taken to Tweed Heads Hospital for bruises and cuts and was being cared for by family members.

Tumbulgum, which lies just south of the Queensland border, was badly hit by floods following Cyclone Debbie, with record rainfall.

Ms King, who lived in Belongil but was originally from Auckland, New Zealand, used to work at Tweed Heads Bowls Club but had more recently been working as a care home nurse.

A GoFundMe page has raised more than $132,000 to help the devastated family.

- Daily Mail

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