South Australian Police Commissioner Grant Stevens has fought back tears as the coffin of his “cheeky” 18-year-old son was taken away after a heartfelt ceremony at Adelaide Oval.
Charlie Stevens’s four older siblings carried his coffin out of the stadium before it was loaded into a hearse and driven from the grounds as mourners trailed behind.
Charlie was struck and killed in an alleged hit-and-run crash at Goolwa Beach on November 17 while celebrating schoolies with his mates.
He died the following day, becoming the 101st person to die on SA roads this year
He was farewelled on Thursday at a service attended by several hundred, where he was remembered with love, tears, smiles and laughter.
Mr Stevens said during the ceremony their family had been devastated by the loss of his youngest child in a powerful final farewell.
“Charlie, your mum and I love you. We are devastated that you were taken from us so soon,” Mr Stevens said, with his wife Emma by his side.
“We said you were a force of nature, full of energy, unstoppable. Unforgettable.
“We are heartbroken (but) we can’t think of you without smiling,” Mr Stevens said.
“We have missed you every day since we said goodbye and we will always miss you forever, Charlie boy.”
Mr Stevens said his son was “intense and immersed in the things he loved”, including his skateboard and desire for a new car.
Most of all, Mr Stevens said it was his son’s friends who meant the most to Charlie and who had supported his family after his death.
He told the packed crowd his son was destined to be a tradie and shared stories about his larrikin ways, from pranks to “cheeky” drinks.
“School was all about having a good time,” he said.
“Charlie’s friends were important to him and there isn’t one of them that we don’t like or respect.
“It’s meant the world to us that Charlie’s mates have spent so much time with us since we lost him.
“It warmed our hearts to have that group of boys just being in our home.”
Mr Stevens said his son was known for his big heart. In a letter from a former teacher, he was remembered for his “infectious smile” and sense of humour.
Dedicated, hard working and cheeky
The event was officiated by Adelaide presenter and family friend Tom Rehn who described Charlie as a “dedicated, hardworking, and friend.
Mr Rehn shared stories about Charlie’s last years as a teenager in Adelaide, including times with his own stepson, Xavier.
“Charlie was cheeky. Most of you are well aware of that,” Mr Rehn said.
“How many times he and his little cohort will convene in our backyard, listening to music, swimming in the pool, talking trash and wrestling.
“One time, the wrestling had gone a little bit too far and they had unfortunately gone through the wall and left a bit of a hole.
“(He said): ‘I’ll fix it. And, true to his word. That very week, he came back with a workmate to fix the lot.
“That incident taught me what I think we all knew … he was accountable, responsible. Even at his very young age.”
‘No time for hate’; Charlie’s siblings impassioned goodbye
Siblings Dylan, Josh, Tom and Sophie wrapped their arms around one another as they farewelled their brother.
“Our hearts are shattering more and more, day by day,” sister Sophie said as she held back tears.
“You annoyed the absolute shit out of me on numerous occasions, but I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. “
Brother Dylan described his brother as “charming” and “free spirited”, and someone who lived life to the fullest.
“I’ll always cherish the endless hours spent in the backyard playing either cricket, footy, basketball, or tennis until the sun went down,” he said.
“But, this usually ended up with Charlie cracking the shits and chasing one of us away with a bat,” he added laughing.
Brother Tom, whose song Great Big Sun opened the service, told the crowd he and his brother were “cut from the same cloth”.
“I was so proud of the young man Links (Charlie) had grown into, leaving school and finding a passion for his new life on the tools,” he said.
“He was always bringing people together, making them laugh and smile. Usually, in the man cave Charlie built in the back of the pool shed.
“I know how much he looked up to me and that was something I never carried lightly. It gave me a sense of purpose and responsibility.
“So there is no time for hate or anger while we have this gift of life. Although you’re never coming home, the impact you had … lives forever.”
Premier Peter Malinauskas and acting SA Police Commissioner Linda Williams were in the crowd on Thursday, as well as police commissioners from other jurisdictions.
The crowd laughed loudly at stories of Charlie’s life shared by the numerous speakers, with a real sense of life in the room for the late teen.
Charlie’s tearful mates pay tribute
Charlie’s friends shared stories of the tight-knit group’s drunken shenanigans, raiding the Stevens’ liquor cabinet in a teary, heartfelt farewell.
Many of the boys, who attended school with Charlie, described him as being like a “brother” to them, “loyal … and only one message away”.
“The love, the laughs, the countless stupid shit we did will never end and I will never forget a single moment that we spent together,” said one friend.
Another added: “What truly inspired me about you was your ability to live in the present … You were always smiling, always dancing.
“You always brought everyone along with you on your amazing journey. His selflessness, kindness and positive positivity is something we can all appreciate.”
Charlie’s boss, Tom Edwards, described his late apprentice as hard working, dedicated, and a credit to his family.
“He was really shaping up to be a quality builder,” Mr Edwards said.
“He even had, as he referred to, his own apprentice.
“You could see how he loved to show him the way and teach him what he had already learned.
“He also taught helped Kohi, a Japanese worker, expand his English with a vocabulary of words I will not repeat.”
Family’s heartfelt message to supporters
Before the service, the family of Charlie released a heartfelt message of thanks to all those who have reached out to them following the tragic death of their beloved son.
In a statement read out by former South Australia Police Assistant Commissioner and close family friend Peter Harvey, the Stevens’ family said there were “no words” to describe the grief they were feeling.
“Today we say goodbye to our most precious, wonderful and beautiful Charlie,” the family said.
Crowds of mourners of all ages filled the William Magarey Room at Adelaide Oval, including close friends of Charlie and leaders from South Australia’s political and business class.
Charlie’s casket is on a stage in the front of the room, lit up softly with lights and covered in blue and white flowers.
The family have taken their seats. Youth Group’s ‘Forever Young’ is playing in the room.
“The love and support from family, friends, teammates, school colleagues and many, many people from across the community, has been incredible and so greatly appreciated.
“The flowers, cards, telephone calls, text messages and social media wishes have not stopped and the feeling of total support has helped us deal with Charlies passing as best we can.
“The support has been amazing and greatly appreciated. We are overwhelmed and grateful.”
Hundreds are gathering at the Adelaide Oval to remember Charlie, who was struck and killed in an alleged hit-and-run crash at Goolwa Beach on November 17. He died the following day, becoming the 101st person to die on SA roads this year.
The Stevens family asked the public to donate to Operation Flinders in lieu of flowers with their statement and also asked people to consider organ donation.
“Sincerely thank you to everyone who has contacted us in some way. If we have not responded yet we will endeavour to do so as best we can and when we can.
“Now is the time for us to regroup as a family and focus on how we move forward without our very special Charlie.
“Thank you once again to everyone for all your kind support and love.”
A six-figure donation will be made on behalf of South Australian police commissioner Grant Stevens’s son, as the top cop prepares to lay the teenage boy to rest.
South Australian Premier Peter Malinauskas announced on Thursday the government would donate $100,000 to Operation Flinders in honour of Charlie, after his parents asked the public to support the charity in their son’s memory.
Operation Flinders runs eight-day programs in the Northern Flinders Ranges for 13 to 18-year-olds, where young people trek up to 100km, experience Indigenous culture, abseil and learn bushcraft.
Mr Malinauskas said the donation reflected how deeply Charlie’s passing had affected South Australians.
“This contribution is an appropriate way for us to show our support for Grant, Emma and the Stevens family,” he said.
“Operation Flinders does important work improving the lives of young South Australians, and this is a fitting way to honour Charlie.”
Operation Flinders CEO David Wark said the organisation was “humbled” by the donation and would work closely with the Stevens family moving forward to ensure Charlie’s legacy lived on through the hundreds of other young people Operation Flinders would help.
“ We will strive to ensure Charlie’s legacy will be recognised through programs and opportunities which will impact on young people the Stevens family will never meet, which is the ultimate act of generosity,” he said.
The donation comes just hours before hundreds are expected to gather at the Adelaide Oval for a twilight service remembering Charlie.
Charlie’s passing has sent shockwaves throughout the nation, and cast a sharp torchlight on South Australia’s brutal year on the roads, which is shaping up to be the worst for fatalities in a decade.
In a heartbreaking open letter issued after Charlie’s death, Mr Stevens and his wife Emma paid tribute to their son, addressing him as “101” and celebrating his life while demonstrating that behind every road toll statistic lies a full life and a human being loved by others.
“I am writing this sitting in a bedroom with dirty clothes on the floor, an unmade bed, six drinking glasses lined up on the bedside table, an empty KFC box next to the glasses, wardrobe doors left open and a row of skateboards leaning on the wall – it is a mess and it’s perfect. This is where 101 lived,” the parents write.
“101 is Charles Stevens – Charlie, Charlie Boy, Chas, Links, Steve. You lived life and gave so much to so many. You were a force of nature and we will never forget your beautiful cheeky, disarming smile.”
Mr Malinauskas said he and his wife Annabel shed tears reading the emotional letter.
“Here’s a family that is grieving, has every reason to be utterly devastated and thinking about themselves and how they get through it, yet what they’re doing is thinking of others,” he said as his voice started to break.
“Thinking about how this tragedy might translate to a lesson for everybody else in the community, not just thinking about their son but thinking about the other 100 victims who’ve been lost in the road toll.
“What marvellous people.”
Federal Opposition Leader Peter Dutton read the letter to the House on Tuesday in tribute to Mr Stevens and his family, following a conversation with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
“Son, brother, grandson, uncle, nephew, cousin, friend, workmate, teammate, so much more than just a number on a tragic tally,” he read.
The opposition leader took a pause during his speech, appearing to be in tears, as he read the letter in which Mr Stevens recalled his late son as a “loveable ratbag from the moment he could talk”.
Charlie’s death came in the midst of a concentrated blast of tragedy for the South Australian police and broader community.
On November 16, one day before Charlie died at Goolwa Beach, Brevet Sergeant Jason Doig was shot and killed at a property near Bordertown in the state’s southeast.
A police funeral will be held for Brevet Sergeant Doig on December 4.