The horrific murder of 14-year-old by an online predator shocked the nation – and his devastated family are still picking up the pieces. So is it possible to move on from such unimaginable loss? His mother Lorin and sister Carly open up to Anna Moore.
I first interviewed Lorin Lafave in 2016, less than two years after her teenage son Breck had been groomed and murdered by an online predator.
Then, Lorin was deep in grief. Her Surrey house was dark, still and silent, and I found it hard to believe that somewhere out of sight were her three remaining children, the 14-year-old triplets. Lorin described her own state as ‘robotic’. She told me she’d spent a year in bed with the curtains closed. I came away wondering how that family could ever recover.
Four years on, I visit her again, though they’ve left Surrey for the Kent coast. The triplets – Carly, Chloe and Sebastian – are 18, reaching the end of sixth form, and the house is full of noise (at the time, COVID-19 was just a background rumble).
Lorin looks younger. She’s newly engaged and getting married in September. Today she’s wearing Breck’s old clothes (his jeans and T-shirt look quite rock and roll) because it’s both his birthday and the anniversary of his funeral, and this is how she always marks it. We’re joined by Carly, open and articulate, her school’s deputy head girl. There’s laughter, there’s straight talking, there are tears followed by more laughter. They haven’t just survived; they’ve thrived. It seems a kind of miracle.
Many will know Breck Bednar’s story because, since his death in 2014, Lorin’s life’s work has been to share it as widely as possible, to educate our youth and prevent it from happening again. Lorin and her ex-husband Barry Bednar are Americans who moved to the UK for Barry’s work as a shipping consultant. Breck was their eldest, born here in 1999; then came the triplets less than three years later. Though the couple separated in 2008, Barry remained closely involved with the children’s care.
‘Looking back, I see Mum as two different people,’ says Carly. ‘There’s the “before” Mum and the “after” Mum. Before Breck was killed, she was so fun – a bit wild, a crazy American at heart.’
‘We didn’t have family here and I like that big family feeling,’ says Lorin. ‘I wanted every day to be a celebration. We’d invite everyone to the house – my friends, their kids, their pets – have Chinese for Chinese New Year and haggis on Burn’s Night. I’d always decorate the house like crazy!’ And at the centre of all this was Breck, who Lorin calls her ‘right-hand man’.
‘He had such a spark,’ says Carly. ‘I looked up to him so much. He’d get home from school and tell us what he’d learnt and we’d sit and listen.’
Breck was 14 when he was killed. A popular A-star student who loved computers – he would buy parts, dismantle and rebuild them – he’d joined an online gaming group with friends from primary school. The one member unknown to them all was Lewis Daynes, whose server hosted the games. He claimed to be a computer engineer with a multimillion-pound company, and everything he told them was top secret. Sometimes he claimed to be in New York working for the US Department of Defense, other times he was in Syria or Dubai.
To Breck, his life sounded incredible. He spent more time gaming with Daynes and much less time with his family. Breck talked about his outlandish stories all the time; Lorin remembers a lot of ‘Lewis says’: ‘Lewis says I shouldn’t have to do chores’ or ‘Lewis says I don’t need to finish school because he can get me a Microsoft apprenticeship when I turn 16’.
‘My fear was that he was a paedophile sitting in his underpants,’ says Lorin. ‘I thought Breck was being groomed but I never thought he was being groomed to be murdered – not in my worst nightmare.’
There were sit-down talks and there were rows. Lorin and Barry met with other parents from the gaming group to set out their worries. In December 2013, Lorin even called the police and gave them Daynes’s name – they did nothing – and, finally, she confiscated Breck’s computer. On 16 February 2014, 13 months since Breck had first joined the group, he secretly took a taxi ride to Daynes’s home in Essex, paid for by Daynes. He’d convinced Breck that he was dying and wanted to hand his business over to Breck, but first he needed to show him the ropes. In truth, he was unemployed, living alone and had already been accused (but not charged) with raping a boy and possessing indecent images.
No one knows what happened that night – Daynes has never given a true account – but the next day (Lorin’s birthday), Daynes called 999, claiming he’d killed his ‘friend’ in an ‘altercation’. He also sent pictures of Breck’s body to other members of the gaming group. Daynes is now serving life for murder. Two years later, the family received an apology and substantial damages from Surrey Police.
‘That time is a blur,’ says Lorin. ‘I couldn’t get my head around it. I’d been trying to protect Breck, but not from that. I remember the triplets everywhere, as if they wanted to be with me, but I wasn’t there mentally. The house was crammed with friends and relatives who did everything – bought the milk, did the laundry.
‘I couldn’t eat,’ she recalls. ‘How could I when Breck couldn’t eat? I remember I’d cry in the shower and say over and over, “There’s nothing I can do.” In most situations there’s something you can do. But when you lose a child – the worst thing possible – you can’t fix it.’
Though Lorin and Barry tried to shield the triplets from the details of Breck’s murder, there was plenty of information online. ‘We did look and that was horrible,’ says Carly. ‘I remember going back to school and everyone was in mourning. It was a big deal. But I liked that. I wanted Breck to be thought about and talked about.’
During this time, Lorin says she took to bed for a year. ‘The triplets would come home and I’d be in the dark bedroom. I feel so sorry for them – they didn’t just lose a really special brother but also a sane mother.’ Carly refers to this as Lorin’s ‘bed period’.
‘We didn’t know when life was going to start again,’ she says. The children had been raised to be independent and now they were more so, doing the chores, cooking, washing up.
What helped? ‘At the end of the day, you just had to get through this horrible time frame,’ says Lorin. ‘Victim Support counselling was great, but it isn’t long term. I got trauma therapy [specifically for victims of trauma], which I 100 per cent believe in.’ A friend offered the use of her chalet on the Kent coast and Lorin spent more time there, walking on the beach, cycling through narrow streets on Breck’s bike. ‘Here, no one knew my story,’ says Lorin. ‘I could step outside without people looking at me to see if I was better.’ When she saw a house for sale, she had a look. ‘It was bright and sunny; it felt like a healing house. As nice as our old home had been, I couldn’t be the same person there. Moving was a clean break.’
It was a clean break for the triplets, too. ‘I didn’t tell their new schools what had happened,’ says Lorin. ‘I wanted them to go in as themselves and not be defined by their murdered brother. Eventually people would find out – but it was their choice what they wanted to say.’ Gradually, in this new life, Carly began to see glimpses of recovery in her mum. ‘Seeing her with new neighbours, hosting little dinners,’ she says. ‘My brother would have his friends round and Mum would have the table all done up – when she gets in hostess mode, it feels like Mum being Mum again.’ There were more crazy party moments. ‘There was the time Mum had a dinner party, and afterwards all of us gatecrashed a party of a local celebrity – Vic Reeves!’
‘For a long time, I couldn’t allow myself to have fun because I felt too guilty,’ says Lorin. ‘As a parent, you’re supposed to protect your children, no matter what. I’ll always feel like I failed.’
Unsurprisingly, seeing her triplets safely through their teens was at times terrifying. ‘Mum was super-annoying at first – all these rules and restrictions,’ says Carly. ‘We were one of the first to have the tracking app Life360 so she could see where we are at any time. We still have it. My friends call it ‘the stalking app’ but fair enough, Breck died and if he’d listened to Mum, he’d be here right now. She is entitled to be strict on this – though she’s pretty chilled now that we’re older.’
In fact, Carly is inclined to be strict with her own friends. ‘If they’re doing something stupid – meeting a stranger they knew online, especially when we were younger – I’d let them know. Now, I’ll do a background check.’ She has also given a talk about Breck to every year group in her school. ‘It took two weeks and it was horrible. I didn’t anticipate the toll of talking about it every day, but I had a duty,’ she says. ‘I wanted to let the whole school know, to keep them safe.’
Lorin has also made it her mission to reach as many young people as possible through her work at the Breck Foundation, which started in the months after Breck’s death with a few local mums and now has a staff of seven. ‘Rules on their own don’t work,’ she says. ‘Breck had sat through an “internet safety” assembly a month before he was killed. The message didn’t reach him. What happened to Breck is real; it resonates with children and helps them understand that everybody online is a stranger. ‘I thought I’d just need to tell Breck’s story once. I forgot that there are always kids being born, new parents and teachers, so we have to continue to educate.’ Lorin speaks in schools, to police and parents. She has been involved in a BBC documentary, a play (Game Over) and a short film, Breck’s Last Game. The Breck Foundation also campaigns to improve safety measures on gaming and social-media platforms, particularly around age verification. ‘We’ve got children lying about their age, adults lying about their age; it’s crazy,’ she says. ‘You’d never put your kid in a playground with a bunch of adults, but online we don’t think it’s a safety issue.’
With all this, plus three children on the cusp of leaving home, it’s a busy time for Lorin. She’s getting married again, to David, who she met online 18 months ago. ‘I was careful to follow all the advice I give others, and we didn’t meet up in a private place,’ says Lorin. ‘He grounds me and is so good too. He always includes the kids.’
Even now, there are still times Carly has to be mother. ‘I do feel like the parent sometimes,’ she says, ‘and there are times Mum will be bawling her eyes out after spending all day at schools talking about the worst thing that has ever happened to her. It scares me to think of that taking place when I’m not here to help her through it.’ She looks at her mum. ‘I feel like my main thing is to stay alive on this earth for you because, for me, the worst thing that could possibly happen is for you to lose another child.’
Lorin wells up when she hears that. ‘Your main thing is to stay alive on this earth for yourself!’ she cries. ‘Carly is a good friend and daughter,’ she adds. ‘At times I didn’t think I’d get through this and I don’t know what parents do when they lose their only child. I couldn’t have done it without the triplets.’