Courier Mail, The (Brisbane), 24/11/2005, pg. 1

SHE escaped a kind of hell to forge a new life and guided hundreds of others to a sense of belonging and safety, but Rita Sula’s own death was as tragic as the past she fled.

Mrs Sula and her daughter Connie, 15, died in a fire in her Toowoomba home early yesterday in what police believe could be murder.

Son Jerry, 21, was last night clinging to life in Brisbane’s Princess Alexandra Hospital after being found with head injuries in the front yard of the family’s apartment.

The deaths have ripped out the heart of Toowoomba’s African community in which Mrs Sula was regarded as a matriarch.

She and husband Charles were the city’s first Kenyan refugees in 1991.
They raised their children in Toowoomba and drew together a growing group of Kenyan, Sudanese and Ugandans.

Mrs Sula was a tireless volunteer worker, visiting new families, helping them settle, teaching them how to adjust in their new home.
She sponsored her sister Maryann to Australia and her niece Betty Binya and her husband Edward in 2003.

For some of the 800-strong community that the Sula family helped to bond, the loss shattered the security they thought they had found.

Groups of distraught friends and family gathered outside the Sula home throughout yesterday, many silent with horror, others crying in despair.

Mr Sula, who separated from his wife five years ago, was distraught when told.

Bewildered, he could think only of reaching son Jerry’s hospital bed.
“They are my only children,” he said before breaking down.

St Saviour’s College principal Margaret Lee said Connie, a Year 10 student, was a beautiful, bubbly, cheerful young woman who had many friends. Classmates were in shock and were being offered counselling.
The school would remember Connie during an end-of-year assembly today.

Toowoomba police district superintendent Tony Wright said neighbours of the Muller St unit in Kearneys Spring had heard breaking glass about the time of the fire.

Supt Wright said it appeared Jerry Sula had been hit on the head.

Emergency services were alerted to the fire at 11.59pm by six triple-0 calls.

Fire units arrived within four minutes and found the unit well alight with flames breaking through the roof and Jerry Sula in the front yard of the units with severe head injuries.

“There were huge volumes of black smoke,” Queensland Fire and Rescue Service Toowoomba safety director Paul Evans said. “It was a very fast and hot fire which moved into the roof very quickly.”

Mr Evans said firefighters entered the building and found a person dead on a bedroom floor. In a second search within minutes of the first, firefighters found a second body on the floor of the same bedroom.

Supt Wright said homicide, forensic and scientific police squads were continuing investigations.

Copyright 2005 / Courier Mail