A 35-year-old Canadian who uses a wheelchair was beaten in Sydney, Australia, on Tuesday and is in hospital in serious condition, according to police reports.
Heath Proden is from Manitoba but has been in Sydney since November on an extended visit with his girlfriend.
He was waiting to catch a train at a city station at about 11 p.m. local time when he was approached and verbally attacked by two teenage boys, the New South Wales police said on their website. The physical attack that followed was recorded by security cameras at the station.
Police have charged two teenagers, aged 15 and 16, with armed robbery and attempt to cause bodily harm. Both have been denied bail.
Trapped in elevator
After being confronted by the teens, Proden tried to leave the station via an elevator but was punched in the face by one of the boys and knocked from his chair, police said.
"I know he was quite intimidated and the only way for him to escape was by the lift, which unfortunately was where they trapped him and beat him," his girlfriend, Kristin Sharrock, told CBC News.
The teenagers allegedly then stomped on Proden and hit him on the head and body with metal bars, including one from his wheelchair.
The teens ran away with Proden's belongings and wheelchair, police said, but returned later — and repeatedly — to resume beating him.
Proden remains in a hospital northeast of Sydney, where he was being prepared for surgery on Thursday morning to treat severe cuts on his head and a depression in his skull.
"Fortunately, there's no injuries other than a compressed fracture of the skull," Sharrock said. "All his neurological exams have come back good, thank goodness.
"All the bruises are starting to appear now, so now pretty much his whole arms and torso are just black and blue from where he defended himself."
'It's sick': mother
Sharrock said Proden was "awake and lucid and doing quite well under the circumstances, but he's "distraught, obviously, and very upset, and just can't believe that it's happened."
She said Proden went to a pub to listen to Doc Walker, a Canadian country music band that was playing in the city. He was on his way home when the beating happened.
He grew up with members of the band in Portage la Prairie, Man., located about 70 kilometres west of Winnipeg, but now lives in Winnipeg Beach, a town about 65 kilometres north of Winnipeg.
'I just want him home. I just want him home and safe. I just want to see him.' — Shellan Proden, victim's mother
"He's a kind, generous, strong individual," Sharrock said, fighting back tears. "He doesn't deserve what's happened to him."
Proden's mother, Shellan, who also lives in Winnipeg Beach, said she was sick to her stomach when Sharrock told her about the attack.
"I just want him home," she said. "I just want him home and safe. I just want to see him."
Shellan has not been able to watch the video of the beating, which is being played on news broadcasts around the world. Every time it comes on, she has to leave the room.
"It's sick, sick," she said, stopping to cry. "These tears have been over and over and over."
Proden's grandmother, Vivian Proden, said he has used a wheelchair since breaking his back in a snowmobile accident in 2000.
"This boy has had a devastating life," she said. "He's a paraplegic. He's had a difficult time dealing with life and now this trip to Australia to visit his girlfriend was a highlight of his life, a happy part of his life for the first time, and now this happens. It's not fair, not fair at all."
Despite his physical limitations, Proden has never given up living an active life and Shellan said she expects he will use the same strength of mind to heal after the beating.
"No matter what, he'll come back," she said. "He's a strong, strong, strong individual."
The incident "appears to be a random act" and police have not determined a motive, police spokeswoman Joanne Elliott told CBC News. She said she'd never heard of an assault like this one.
"And I know that very, very experienced police who have worked in Sydney's western suburbs for 20 years … were absolutely appalled by what happened."
But according to freelance reporter Tim Stackpool, many in the community — about an hour's drive west of Sydney's famed beaches — say this type of beating "was destined to happen."
"The crime rate there has been going up and up and up and up," Stackpool told CBC News. "The police have been doing their utmost to keep it under control, but this is a place in Sydney where perhaps there is not a lot for the youth of the streets to … do.
"It is a cheaper area to buy property in Sydney, and some young families and young couples are moving in there now. But of course, over many years, some undesirable elements have crept into that community and unfortunately, 11 o’clock at night on that railway station where the victim was is perhaps not the place to be."