How a monster destroyed a family and town's innocence
THE family of Roma schoolgirl Stacey-Ann Tracy is taking solace from the kind-hearted generosity of two residents who have donated a graveside plaque for the murdered nine-year-old.
Twenty-five years ago on May 22, Stacey-Ann was abducted by Roma man Barry Hadlow while walking to school.
A week later, the town faced the shocking news that Stacey-Ann's body had been found in Bungil Creek, near Miscamble St.
But this week Stacey-Ann's aunt, Sally Horner, spoke to the Star about the painful memories of that tragic day and her heartbreaking secret as police and the town searched for the little missing girl who was "quiet and calm - an old soul".
Ms Horner said she was a private school bus driver the day Stacey-Ann disappeared.
As police and volunteers searched for Stacey-Ann, Ms Horner said the children's safety was paramount in her mind.
Ms Horner said her family had lost contact and before the abduction she was unaware Stacey-Ann's family had moved to the town.
"They turned up in Roma and we had no idea they were in town," she said.
"If I had known she was walking (to school every day), she would have been on my bus.
"My feeling was that I had to make sure the kids on the school bus were safe.
"I had a lot of people ringing me to take their kids, and I was being abused by parents because I couldn't take them.
"Nobody in town knew I was related, and I kept it that way to make sure I was still able to drive the bus."
While the plaque is a mark of respect and provides some solace for Ms Horner, she said the actions of Hadlow destroyed her family's chance at a fresh start in Roma.
"The town's innocence was taken away - I just couldn't settle into the town again," she said.
"Roma was my sanctuary and he shattered that."
Ms Horner also recalled the day of Stacey's funeral when many townsfolk packed St Paul's Anglican Church for the funeral, including Stacey's mother Janet and her partner.
But it would be another 12 months before Ms Horner said the family could feel closure with the sentencing of Hadlow in a Brisbane court.
It was Hadlow's response to the question, "Why did you kill her?" that was too much for Ms Horner to bear.
"His explanation was he was bored," she said.
"He showed no remorse - I just left after that."
Now that kind souls, Maria Collins and Selwyn Price, have honoured the memory of Stacey with a new memorial plaque for her gravestone, Ms Horner said her niece could be at peace.
"We are just so grateful and appreciative that someone has done this," she said.
The plaque will be a permanent adornment to the girl's grave in the Roma cemetery. A new bedding of white rock, flowers, a stuffed animal and a new wooden beam have been put in place, honouring her memory.