Madeleine Pulver's angel: The cop who braved the collar bomb
For three long hours on the afternoon of August 3, 2011, police officer Karen Lowden sat with Madeleine Pulver, neither of them sure whether the device strapped to the schoolgirl's neck would explode. Here, Karen tells her story.
When Karen Lowden took her two-year-old son, Lachlan, to his playgroup in early August, she was given a standing ovation from fellow mothers and handed a greeting card with Wonder Woman on the front.
"Our hero!" read one of the messages inside. "Congrats on a fab job. It's nice to know we have people like you looking after us."
It was the end of a remarkable week in the life of a woman who calls herself "just an ordinary police officer".
For three long hours last year, Karen, a senior constable at Mosman police station on Sydney's North Shore, sat with 18-year-old schoolgirl Madeleine Pulver in the living room of the teenager's home, neither of them certain whether the device locked around Madeleine's neck might explode at any moment.
They talked about the girl's upcoming HSC exams, her interest in art studies, the minutiae of teenage life in one of Sydney's most exclusive suburbs anything to take the teenager's mind off the suspected collar bomb that had been forcibly strapped to her earlier that afternoon by a masked intruder.
Here was a policewoman and mother, spurred on by maternal instinct and a sense of professional duty to remain by the side of a distressed girl she didn't know, even as that same instinct was compelling her to walk away for the sake of her own son.
"I never felt at any point that backing out of the room was an option," Karen, 34, tells The Weekly in an exclusive interview.
"It didn't even cross my mind to do that while Madeleine was there. There was just no way I was going to leave Maddie in there alone."
Sitting now in the home she shares with her husband of three years, Dave, 47, a fellow police officer, and their son, Lachlan, Karen is a picture of serenity.
Freshly baked pumpkin scones sit on the kitchen counter, while Lachlan scoots happily around the living room atop his ride-on Thomas The Tank Engine.
"Dave brought home an entire pumpkin the other day," Karen explains. "And I've been baking scones ever since just to use it up".
Recalling the afternoon last year when her life was turned momentarily upside down, Karen says she didn't hesitate to sit by Maddie's side while her colleagues evacuated neighbours from their homes, set up a multi-block perimeter around the house and called in the bomb squad.
"When you see someone in distress, you just want to talk to them, you just want to reassure them that it's all going to be okay," says Karen.
"It's the same as when your child is crying, you just want to comfort them. You don't want them to sense any stress or panic, because you know it's only going to upset them more."
And yet it's hard to believe that during those three hours, as police scrambled to determine whether the suspected collar bomb really did contain explosives, as the note indicated, Karen never once felt tempted to walk away.
"I did think of Dave and Lachlan at one stage," she says. "But it just made me determined to survive it. I didn't say it to Madeleine at the time, but I remember thinking, 'We're not going to die today'."
Paul Douglas Peters, the man responsible for the terrifying crime, was jailed for 13 years and six months yesterday.
As Judge Peter Zahra handed down his sentence, Madeleine's father Bill broke into tears and hugged his daughter, who was also crying, while Peters had no reaction.
Outside the court, the brave 18-year-old said she was pleased the process was over.
"I realise it's going to take quite some time to come to terms with what happened but today was important because now the legal process is over," she said.
"For me it was never about the sentencing but to know that he cannot reoffend, and it was good to hear the judge acknowledge the trauma he has caused my family and me."
Madeleine added that she was surprised to find this year much harder than last year, but was lucky to have had the support of her family and friends.
Judge Zahra acknowledged the devastating effect the act has had on the family, saying the impact on the young woman had been severe.
"The fear instilled can only be described as unimaginable," he told the court.
"The victim was vulnerable. She was on her own studying for her trial HSC exams. She was entitled to the sanctuary of her home."