Lottie, Chelsea and Chloe are just three of the children being helped by at bereaved children’s charity Winston’s Wish
Little Leah is drawing a picture of her mummy and daddy, and is carefully colouring in her mother’s blonde hair.
But dad is holding a knife. The four-year-old searches through the crayons, saying: “I need red for the blood.”
When a counsellor asks her what happened, she adds quietly: “They had a little fight and he stabbed mummy.”
Meanwhile her sister Lilly, two years her senior, asks: “How do you spell ‘killed’? Is it a curly ‘c’ or a kicking ‘k’?”
The sisters are on the UK’s only residential weekend to help children bereaved by murder or manslaughter.
And they are trying to write words or draw pictures to build the story of what happened to them.
Every day a child in England and Wales loses a family member in this horrific way, so sadly there are many others like Leah and Lilly.
Sisters Chloe, now 13, Chelsea, 10, and nine-year-old Lottie were asleep in bed when their dad burst into the house with a knife and murdered their mother, stabbing her repeatedly before turning the knife on himself.
“He slashed her throat then stabbed her 22 times. How could he do that, knowing his young children were upstairs and could’ve found them like that?” asks maternal grandmother Jackie, who now cares for the girls.
“The hardest thing now is answering their questions, like ‘Where are mummy and daddy now? and ‘Are they together?’”
Thankfully there’s help from the extraordinary grief professionals at bereaved children’s charity Winston’s Wish.
Now a moving Channel 4 film, A Killing In My Family, follows eight families on the weekend.
It’s devastating to see the youngsters explain to the group why they are there. “I’ve come here to remember my mum Hayley and my dad David,” says Chloe.
But Leah, remembering her mum Mika, just lowers her head and wipes away a tear, unable to say the words.
Four of the families lost a mum, two lost a dad or step dad, one a brother – and for Chloe, Chelsea and Lottie it was both parents .
They sit in a circle as the team encourages them to share their tales and hopefully feel less alone.
Gemma Allen, a senior practitioner at Winston’s Wish, whose mum Diana died when she was 10, says: “Murder can happen to ordinary families. To come along and leave themselves so open and vulnerable and exposed, that can be terrifying.
“But they need to be with others who have experienced a murder. They just need to be with people who get it.”
Gemma asks the 15 children to write a story to help clarify what happened to them. They are told not to be afraid to use words like “shot”, “stabbed” or “murdered”. Chloe, Chelsea and Lottie write their story, including stick-figure drawings of themselves asleep in bed.
Chelsea reads: “One day my mum and dad split up. Dad was jealous and came up with a plan.
“Mum answered the door but he was holding a knife and he barged in and just stabbed her. Then he walked into our room and said ‘Night’.
“Even though I was awake I pretended to be asleep. I woke up but there was a policeman carrying me. I was confused. Then Nan said they had passed away but I didn’t know what passed away meant.”
You can see the pain etched on the grief counsellors’ faces as they listen, especially when Chelsea says she finds it hard to cry, saying: “I just don’t feel right when I let tears out in front of people.”
But later, in a candlelit ceremony for all the children to remember their loved ones, the three sisters cry together for the first time. Lottie says: “I love them and miss them. They made me smile.”
Gemma says: “Often the ceremony is the first time since the funeral they’ve stopped and thought about who’s died. Some may never have cried.”
There’s also help for the guardians of these children, often parents of those killed. In a therapy session, grandma Jackie says of the man who murdered her daughter: “He wasn’t nasty, he wasn’t violent, he was just Dave. You miss him as much as you do her. They’d been together so many years.”
Lilly and Leah’s paternal grandmother, Gill, says in tears: “My daughter-in-law and son had an argument. He told us she’d gone missing, but a week later a police officer told us they’d found so much blood in the house that they knew they were looking for a body. That’s the first time we found out he’d stabbed her.
“Now he’s in prison for manslaughter. I miss my daughter-in-law but still love my son.”
Leah and Lilly are set to visit their dad in jail for the first time. Lilly says: “I’m really excited to see my dad. He writes us letters.”
When police family liaison officer Supt Simon Atkinson arrives on the course to take questions from the youngsters, Lilly asks him bluntly: “Why did my dad kill my mum?” It’s not a question that is easily answered.
The children also attend a “difficult feelings” session, where they are encouraged to write, draw or share any feeling, using flashcards to help.
O’Shae, 15, whose dad was shot dead, says he can feels angry and aggressive. Brother Mikeal, eight, has written “terrified” – he’s worried that someone else close to him will die.
As they prepare for a balloon release, the children must write a message to their loved one, as well as a wish for the future. Lilly says: “I wish my mum could come back alive.”
Gemma says: “There’s no magic wand. We know we haven’t fixed it. But hopefully what they’re leaving with is hope to continue the conversations, that what they’re feeling is normal.”
For more information visit
- A Killing In My Family is shown on Wednesday on Channel 4 at 9pm