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'Isaac shouldn’t have died': Mother of Australia's only Beirut blast victim demands an 'independent' investigation

Source: Sarah Copland

An Australian mother who tragically lost her two-year-old son in the Beirut port explosion is calling on the federal government to press for an independent investigation.

Nine months have passed since the horrific Beirut port blast that killed Sarah Copland’s two-year-old son Isaac.  

While she continues to follow the news from Lebanon about the horrific incident and its investigation, she told SBS Arabic24 that the lives of her family members have “become dark” since her son’s death.

She's especially dismayed by the state of the investigation into the explosion, which she believes was a “man-made disaster that could have been avoided”. 

Sarah Copland
Sarah Copland and her son Isaac.
Sarah Copland

More than 200 people died in the August 2020 blast when a huge stockpile of ammonium nitrate, stored unsafely for years, detonated at the capital’s port.

In February, a Lebanese court dismissed a judge who had charged three politicians and the outgoing prime minister Hassan Diab with negligence over the incident.

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This move led to widespread condemnation from families, while Human Rights Watch called it “an insult” to the victims. 

“Isaac should not have died from neglect and corruption,” Ms Copland said.  

“The Lebanese people also suffer from chaos and the worsening economic situation, not holding an investigation into the explosion is unacceptable. 

"I share the anger of the Lebanese people." 

In March, Federal Opposition leader Anthony Albanese issued a statement calling for the Morrison government to take steps to press for an “independent and transparent investigation,” a measure Ms Copland believes is vital.  

“The Australian government must realise that an Australian citizen died in this massacre.  

“The Australian government should demand that an independent investigation be held because [the current investigation] is standing still and is subject to political interference. 

“Countries like Australia should call for an independent investigation so that there are answers not only for my family but for all Lebanese. We cannot talk about justice for the victims if we do not know who is responsible for storing ammonium nitrate for six years in the port." 

'A beautiful country and kind people'

Ms Copland was living in New York with her husband and Issac when they decided to move to Beirut in August 2019. 

While admitting that settling in the Lebanese capital was a challenge, she said the family was enjoying their time there before the fateful blast 

"A beautiful country and kind people. They accepted us as part of their families and loved Isaac very much. 

“Beirut is a modern city and many people in the West don’t know this. We had fun times and we used to go to cafes, bars and restaurants, and we always visited Zaitunay Bay."

Upon their arrival in Beirut, the young family began searching for a permanent place to live and found an apartment in the Baabda area near the presidential palace. 

At that time, the owner of the house informed them that the location was remote, which prompted the family to look for a residence "close to the pulse and heart of the city," Ms Copland recalls. 

In the end, they settled in the Ashrafieh neighbourhood near Sursock Palace Museum and they formed good relations with their neighbours, and within a short period of time, they began feeling closer to the local culture.

‘I felt I was in a movie' 

At 6:08pm on August 4, the family was in the middle of its regular routine where Isaac was seated in his high chair while his mother fed him.  

“We used to sing children's carols at dinner time. Isaac was attending a nearby nursery school studying Arabic, French and English. Minutes before the explosion we were singing one of my favourite French songs, 'Alewita'.” 

She then heard the first explosion and ran to the window to investigate, and moments later, the second explosion struck. 

“I thought it was either a terrorist attack or the detonation of bombs. The force of the explosion threw me to the ground.” 

Isaac was hit in the chest by glass shards, which prompted his mother to quickly run him to the bathroom.

“I was seven months pregnant and got glass shrapnel in my body and face. I started to recognise then how serious Isaac’s injuries were."

Sarah Copland
Isaac was being fed in his high chair when the explosion occurred.
Sarah Copland

Huge clouds of smoke rose from the Beirut port bordering the old part of the city, and the Ashrafieh neighbourhood - where the family was living - was among the hardest hit. 

“It felt like we were living in a movie. Our street was completely destroyed and the hospitals near us were badly damaged.”

Ms Copland then ran to the main street and began hailing down cars in the middle of the road. 

“A good man driving with his wife and two children stopped. He did not speak English and our Arabic is very limited, but he knew that we wanted to go to the hospital to get help for Isaac. He drove us to Rafic Hariri Governmental Hospital, which is six kilometres away from where we live. It felt like the longest journey in my life."

When the doctors examined Isaac’s injury, he was immediately transferred to another department. 

“The doctors were worried about my unborn baby and took me to another department in the hospital. I was separated from Isaac, who stayed with my husband and I never saw him again. The doctors tried for hours to save him and I know that."

Sarah Copland
The scene of Ms Copland's apartment following the blast.
Sarah Copland

Ms Copland gave birth to her son Ethan in October but admits that she still lives in agony over Isaac's death.  

“Isaac was a wonderful, loving, intelligent, and funny child. We miss him every day, it’s hard to describe the pain I feel because I have not yet come to terms with his death. Ethan is the reason we wake up in the morning and think about the future. He is the light in the darkness that engulfed our lives.”

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