This definitely isn't a story about a 'proud dad'.

On Wednesday staff at NSW Health received an email about a colleague who recently died. 

"It is with indescribable sadness that I find myself letting you know that James Harrison and his son Rowan died on Sunday," it began.

It went on to describe Harrison as a "wonderful colleague and beloved friend", who was "generous with his time" and a "proud dad". 

It even went so far as to reflect on moments when the 38-year-old's little boy "popped up in meetings". 

Reading the contents of that email, Harrison sounds like a great guy. The deaths of him and his son sound like a great tragedy, an accident, something out of their control. 

James Harrison. Image: Facebook.


Except that couldn't be further from the truth. 

James Harrison murdered his son Rowan during a planned custody visit at his home in Lismore, taking his own life in the process.

Rowan's mother Dr Sophie Roome, who was their son's primary carer, had taken out an Apprehended Domestic Violence Order against Harrison, which had remained in place to protect her since July last year. 

But it didn't extend to Rowan. Harrison was still allowed access to him. 

Sophie and her son Rowan. Image: ABC.


Dr Roome called police when Harrison didn't return their son as planned at 4:30pm on Sunday afternoon. As the ABC reports, it is believed Harrison planned the murder-suicide. 

The family's statement said it perfectly: "an evil and cowardly act of violence, perpetrated by a person he should have been able to trust the most."

Harrison's boss at the NSW Health Clinical Excellence Commission Andre Jenkins, would've known the circumstances surrounding Harrison and his son's death. It was being widely reported by then. 

Yet he still sent that email, and the thing is, we shouldn't be surprised. This isn't the first time a man who has just committed a gruesome and unthinkable act has been described as a "good guy." In fact, it happens more often than it doesn't. 

Lillie James was murdered by her ex boyfriend Paul Thijssen, in October, 2023, in a murder-suicide. Her body was found in the toilet area of a gym where he worked. She'd been beaten with a hammer. 


22-year old Lilie James. Image: Supplied. 

In the days after their deaths, much was written about Thijssen. We know he was a school prefect, he played cricket and hockey and he lived and worked in one of the most prestigious suburbs in Sydney. Dissecting his life is the media and society's way of trying to understand what went wrong. It's called the Good Bloke Effect. How could an upstanding young man, do something so horrible? He was such a good guy...


The same shock was expressed when Patrick Orren Stephenson, 22, was revealed as the man charged with the murder of Ballarat woman Samantha Murphy earlier this year. 

Samantha Murphy. Image: Victoria Police.

Samantha, a mother-of-three, had gone out for a morning run. Stephenson is accused of killing her in a "deliberate attack," with police yet to disclose how she died. He is still waiting for his case to be heard in court. 


For a while, his name was suppressed. But when it was revealed, his community was shocked. He is the son of a prominent former AFL player. His friends thought he was 'the next Elon Musk'. He was a private school boy from a respected "lovely" family. A smart kid. A bright future. A good guy...

Right now domestic violence and violence against women is particularly in the zeitgeist because it's worse than ever. Because women and children keep dying, and not enough urgency is being injected into the so-called solutions we've been presented with to fix it. 

Of course to Harrison's boss and perhaps his colleagues, he might have been a good guy. But as his ex-partner and their families are trying to come to terms with the unthinkable, to describe him as such, with not even an acknowledgment of the crime he has committed, is part of the problem. It somewhat excuses it, ignores it and removes his culpability from the narrative altogether. 

Fallout from the email reached the highest levels of the NSW Health bureaucracy on Wednesday. The Daily Telegraph reported "sources said the executive responsible would need to be 'counselled' on his actions but said it was too early to discuss what if any action may be taken."

Quite frankly, I am sick of murderers being painted with the "good guy" brush. Have we not dismantled this trope yet? Surely by now we know that men who do horrible things, don't necessarily look like or act like "bad guys" in public. 


As Melbourne YouTuber Emerson Brophy sings, in a currently going viral video titled Your Mate; "sure he's never been a dick to you, and there's so much shit he's helped you through. But it also can be true that your mate is a dick to women". 


Check your blindspots lads

♬ original sound - Emerson Brophy

The same rhetoric exists here. Men that kill women and children are private school boys, the sons of AFL legends and business analysts like Harrison. They are your friend, neighbour, son, uncle - ordinary guys with ordinary lives who do unthinkable things behind closed doors. Because they're jealous, or angry, they hate women or they want revenge. The excuse is irrelevant. 

We shouldn't be focusing even for a second on the fact that perhaps sometimes Harrison was a "proud dad".

Proud dads don't murder their children. 

Feature image: The Daily Telegraph/Sky News. 

If this has raised any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service.

Mamamia is a charity partner of RizeUp Australia, a national organisation that helps women, children and families move on after the devastation of domestic and family violence. Their mission is to deliver life-changing and practical support to these families when they need it most. If you would like to support their mission you can donate here.