true crime

Parents of Perth girl murdered in shopping centre toilet say they aren't angry anymore.

Ten years on, it’s still one of the most horrific murders Western Australian police have ever seen. An eight-year-old girl snatched, brutally strangled and assaulted by a stranger in a Canning Vale shopping centre toilet.

But, somehow, little Sofia Rodriguez-Urrutia Shu’s family aren’t angry.

Her father, Gabriel Rodriguez, told The Sunday Times that they choose to focus their energy on remembering who Sofia was – “an absolutely gorgeous, normal girl” – and not how she died.

“I try to keep our life as normal as possible, especially for the other three kids and I think we as a family have been very successful in that sense,” he said.

“As a family we talk about Sofia maybe once or twice a week. We talk more as if Sofia is still around, somehow, more than what happened. She would have turned 18 (last year), she would be driving now, legal now.”

Her legacy also remains in the form of a memorial scholarship at her primary school, as well as the creation of a public sex offender registry, which was lobbied for by her father.

Unfortunately, Sofia’s killer, shopping centre worker Dante Arthurs, isn’t on that list. Sexual assault charges against him were dropped, as prosecutors were unable to establish whether they were committed before or after the little girl’s death.

Arthurs observed Sofia enter the women’s toilets and waited, pulling her into the disabled bathroom when she emerged. It was there, just 10 minutes later, that Sofia’s brother discovered her naked, contorted body.

“He will be out there maybe one day and neighbours will not know anything,” Rodriguez told The Sunday Times. “It was something created to prevent situations like Sofia’s and it won’t help [in Arthurs’ case].”

In 2007, Arthurs, now aged 31, was sentenced to life behind bars with a minimum sentence of 13 years after pleading guilty to murder and unlawful detention. He will be eligible for his first parole hearing in 2019.

“Since this guy’s in jail, hopefully for as long as possible, we just keep on with our own lives,” said Rodriguez. “There’s not much hatred. I wouldn’t like to see him come out, I don’t think he would make a contribution to our society. I think it’s just a risk society shouldn’t be taking.”

The sad fact is, that risk could have been avoided prior to Sofia’s death. Arthurs admitted to the sexual assault of another eight-year-old three years prior, but the case was thrown out by prosecutors who deemed police interview tactics to have been too aggressive.

Police Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan since personally apologised to the Rodriguez family for the bungle.

The outrage and support for the family in the wake of the murder and subsequent revelations was immense, and something that Gabriel is thankful for.

“What happened was just unimaginable, it was the worst luck ever, but it could have happened to anybody,” he said. “I think that’s why the community has felt so strongly.”