News, Culture & Society

Family of Port Lincoln teen who died in a garbage bin mourn as friends say he’s a ‘hero’

A young boy who died after crawling inside an industrial bin to sleep out of the cold jumped in the dumpster to support his two mates who were on an ‘adventure’, friends said.

As Spencer Benbolt Junior’s grieving family gathered at his Port Lincoln home on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula to begin a cultural mourning period on Wednesday, friends of the boy insisted he ‘died a hero’.

The only reason Spencer, 13, got in the bin was because he didn’t want to leave his two younger mates in there alone, friends and family say. 

That decision would cost Spencer his life at 5.20am on Tuesday when the bin in a McDonald’s carpark was emptied into a rubbish truck.

Spencer sustained catastrophic injuries and died at the scene. Both friends, aged 11 and 12, walked away unscathed, at least physically. 

Spencer Benbolt Junior was killed when an industrial bin he was sleeping in was emptied by a garbage truck. Friends said Spencer was looking after his two mates in the dumpster when he climbed in

On Wednesday, Spencer’s loved ones began arriving at his family home with supplies of soft drinks and snacks as they began a cultural grieving period. 

A family member said they would stick together as they tried to come to terms with the tragedy.

‘There’s a certain way we grieve in our culture,’ she said. ‘We have our family here now and we need to be together.’ 

Groups of teenagers gathered at Spencer's family home, making trips to the local corner store to pick up supplies

Groups of teenagers gathered at Spencer’s family home, making trips to the local corner store to pick up supplies

Munnalita Kojcic and her son arrived at the scene to lay flowers on Wednesday, explaining they were heartbroken when they learned what happened to Spencer

Munnalita Kojcic and her son arrived at the scene to lay flowers on Wednesday, explaining they were heartbroken when they learned what happened to Spencer

Members of Spencer's family and some of his loved ones gathered at the Port Lincoln home, bringing with them supplies

Members of Spencer’s family and some of his loved ones gathered at the Port Lincoln home, bringing with them supplies 

But another relative posted on Facebook saying Spencer was simply in the ‘wrong place at the wrong time’.

‘Spencer had a loving home to go to, many aunties, uncles, nanas, grandfathers live not far from the township,’ the relative wrote.

‘He got brought up along the coast, fishing, hunting, camping, he was a good sweet boy with a bright smile. He just found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.’

Locals say Spencer had a warm bed and loving family where he could have spent the night, but instead chose to stick with his friends and roam the deserted streets of their hometown. 

Spencer's cousin described him as a 'really good kid' who always had a smile on his face, who had 'been through a lot of s**t'

Spencer’s cousin described him as a ‘really good kid’ who always had a smile on his face, who had ‘been through a lot of s**t’

‘Nobody else can answer that question now. His friends might be able to say why they thought the bin was a good idea, but I don’t think we’ll know what he was thinking.’ 

A woman whose children went to school with Spencer and his mates, said his peers will ‘remember him as a hero’ who looked out for his mates despite knowing he could have returned home at any point.

‘It’s a tragic situation. One of his friends was a pretty regular runaway and it seems like he might’ve just stuck by his mates on their adventure rather than heading home,’ she said.

Family arrived at the home on Wednesday, bringing with them cars full of supplies to begin their mourning period

Family arrived at the home on Wednesday, bringing with them cars full of supplies to begin their mourning period

Locals arrived at the scene to pay their respects to little Spencer throughout Wednesday (pictured)

Locals arrived at the scene to pay their respects to little Spencer throughout Wednesday (pictured)

Family and loved ones have gathered to mourn Spencer's death and try to understand the tragedy

Family and loved ones have gathered to mourn Spencer’s death and try to understand the tragedy

But it’s hard to get a clear picture of what might’ve gone so wrong and several rumours about the boys’ whereabouts and home life were already circulating in the community, the woman added.

‘I think a lot of people would be surprised at the situation here,’ she said. ‘There are lots of kids in foster care, lots of unique family dynamics.’

She knew of several kids just within her own child’s friendship circle that had hopped around multiple foster homes within the area.  

‘It’s tragic. It might just be a matter of not having enough resources to cope with the demand, but we all need to be keeping the kids in this town safe and keeping a close eye on them.’ 

The Port Lincoln Aboriginal Community Centre said his parents and extended family are struggling to cope with the tragedy.

‘They’re just heartbroken,’ a spokeswoman said. ‘They’re really shocked and confused and at the moment we just need to let them grieve.’ 

‘It’s a huge loss for them and for our entire community.’  

Spencer's school flew the Aboriginal flag at half mast on Wednesday in tribute to him

Spencer’s school flew the Aboriginal flag at half mast on Wednesday in tribute to him

Family gathered at the home in Port Lincoln to begin a period of mourning

Family gathered at the home in Port Lincoln to begin a period of mourning

All three boys reportedly fell asleep inside the dumpster toward the back of Repco (pictured) and were awoken about 5.20am on Tuesday as it was being emptied into the garbage truck. The industrial bin had been removed by morning

Pictured: The SafeWork SA representative

Pictured: The SafeWork SA representative

A SafeWork SA inspector arrived at the scene on Wednesday morning to inspect and speak with local businesses

At the home on Wednesday, family milled in the front yard, supporting one another and speaking quietly amongst themselves as people came and went.

A group of teenagers made several trips to the local corner store to stock up on supplies, buying 1.25 litre bottles of coke and snacks. They appeared somber as they walked silently, side by side, up and down the streets. 

On Monday night, Spencer and his two younger mates were out for hours prior to crawling in the industrial bin for the night.

They’d stopped off at the Grand Tasman Hotel, just a six-minute walk away, about 12.30am to ask for glasses of water to drink.

Temperatures had dropped to just 13C and there was a chill in the air from the wind that often batters this historic fishing town on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula, a seven-hour drive from Adelaide.

After the wind came the rain – that light annoying rain that only makes you cold and frustrated – and the boys had nowhere to shelter as just about everywhere had closed up for the night.    

Pictured: The scene where Spencer Benbolt Junior, 13, died after he and two friends fell asleep in a bin, which was then collected by a garbage truck

Pictured: The scene where Spencer Benbolt Junior, 13, died after he and two friends fell asleep in a bin, which was then collected by a garbage truck

The trio walked six minutes out of town toward the McDonald's after midnight and remained in a nearby dumpster until morning

The trio walked six minutes out of town toward the McDonald’s after midnight and remained in a nearby dumpster until morning

The grizzly scene unfolded in Port Lincoln - a small coastal town west of Adelaide in South Australia

The grizzly scene unfolded in Port Lincoln – a small coastal town west of Adelaide in South Australia

After leaving the tavern Spencer, known as Budda to his loved ones, and his two younger buddies left the main strip seeking something else to do.

They had made it clear to the few locals still out and about on Monday night they wouldn’t be going home.

The trio made their way toward Port Lincoln’s industrial area and in the opposite direction of home, away from the main strip of restaurants, cafes, laundromats and a lone cinema.

They stopped walking only when they reached the McDonald’s on the edge of town.

The McDonald’s is surrounded by several car dealerships and mechanics, backing onto the town’s tiny mall, complete with a Kmart, Jay Jays, EB Games and Flight Centre.

Locals told Daily Mail Australia they tried their luck seeking shelter at the McDonald’s as well before eventually heading out to the industrial bin wedged between the fast food chain and the local Repco.

Pictured: A handwritten note left for Spencer at the scene of the tragedy

Pictured: A handwritten note left for Spencer at the scene of the tragedy

One local mother whose seven-year-old son attends school in the area said it beggars belief what would compel the boys to climb into the dumpster.

Munnalita Kojcic said the bin had grates across the front section which would’ve allowed the boys to breathe inside it even with the lid closed.

But still, she questioned why they felt they couldn’t seek shelter in a community home or local service.

‘Even if they’d done something wrong or they’d run away, they deserved to know there was somewhere safe and warm they could go to for a bed, no questions asked.

The 47-year-old had taken her son, Marius, out of school for the morning so they could drop flowers at the scene of the tragic accident.

‘My heart just breaks for everyone involved.’

Lincoln Gardens Primary School, where the boy was a student, flew an Aboriginal flag at half mast on Wednesday in tribute to Spencer.

Rowena Fox, the local Education Department director, spoke outside the school on Wednesday morning where she reflected on the boy’s humour and knack for storytelling. 

‘This morning we spoke about his unique talent for storytelling and how people warmed to him for his lovely personality and sense of humour,’ she said. 

‘There is a deep sense of sadness and loss across which is being keenly felt by those who knew him well.’

Counsellors are meeting with individual students and with Spencer’s peer group to ‘help them come to terms with what has happened’. 

Staff have also been offered support.  

The 13-year-old sustained catastrophic injuries and died at the scene. Pictured: Spencer Benbolt Junior, known as to his loved ones as Budda

The 13-year-old sustained catastrophic injuries and died at the scene. Pictured: Spencer Benbolt Junior, known as to his loved ones as Budda

The trio stopped off at the Grand Tasman Hotel, just a six-minute walk away, about 12.30am to ask for glasses of water to drink

The trio stopped off at the Grand Tasman Hotel, just a six-minute walk away, about 12.30am to ask for glasses of water to drink

All three boys reportedly fell asleep inside the dumpster and were awoken about 5.20am on Tuesday as it was being emptied into the garbage truck.  

Police say the 12-year-old managed to escape the bin and frantically started banging on the window to stop the driver, but his two friends had already fallen into the truck. 

The truck driver did not realise the children were in the bin at the time and is said to be ‘extremely shaken by the incident’.  

While the three boys are not related, locals say they were close and shared a unique bond.

Superintendent Paul Bahr said the boys had beds they could have slept in.

‘It’s fair to say that the boys had somewhere to stay. I don’t think it’d be fair to classify them as homeless,’ he said on Tuesday.   

The McDonald's is surrounded by several car dealerships and mechanics, backing onto the town's tiny (and almost deserted) mall, complete with a Kmart, Jay Jays, EB Games and Flight Centre

The McDonald’s is surrounded by several car dealerships and mechanics, backing onto the town’s tiny (and almost deserted) mall, complete with a Kmart, Jay Jays, EB Games and Flight Centre

The cold streets of Port Lincoln were deserted on Tuesday night, and locals say it's usually pretty quiet in town after dark - particularly during the week

The cold streets of Port Lincoln were deserted on Tuesday night, and locals say it’s usually pretty quiet in town after dark – particularly during the week

‘On what was a pretty cold and wet night, too. It wasn’t a good night to be sleeping outdoors.’

Supt Bahr said police had not previously been aware of reports of kids sleeping in Port Lincoln bins. 

He praised the 11-year-old boy for having ‘the awareness… to get out the back of a dump truck [and] start banging on the door of the driver’s cabin’. 

‘They’ve done everything they can in the circumstances … to try and help their friend.’ 

Supt Bahr said the quiet town, home to just 16,418 people, had ‘a homelessness issue like every other community’ and that ‘occasionally [there are] rough sleepers’. 

Pictured: The scene where a boy died after he was found sleeping in a bin near a McDonald's drive-thru with two others

Pictured: The scene where a boy died after he was found sleeping in a bin near a McDonald’s drive-thru with two others

Lollipops attached to Kids Helpline support pamphlets were left at the scene of Spencer's death

Lollipops attached to Kids Helpline support pamphlets were left at the scene of Spencer’s death

But he’d never been made aware of children sleeping rough or having nowhere else to go.   

Locals set up a small memorial complete with flowers, handwritten notes, teddy bears and lollipops attached to the Kids Helpline number for others to take.

Spencer’s cousin Montanah Elvey described him as a ‘really good kid’ who always had a smile on his face.

‘He was brave, tough. He’s been through a lot of s**t and he is a very strong child,’ she said through tears on Tuesday. 

A report will be prepared for the coroner.

SafeWork SA is investigating. They returned to the scene on Wednesday to inspect the area and speak with staff both at the McDonald’s and the Repco store.  

Locals set up a small memorial complete with flowers, handwritten notes, teddy bears and lollipops attached to the Kids Helpline number for others to take

Locals set up a small memorial complete with flowers, handwritten notes, teddy bears and lollipops attached to the Kids Helpline number for others to take

Spencer's friend said the teen was sleeping in the dumpster because he wanted to get away from his foster home

Spencer’s friend said the teen was sleeping in the dumpster because he wanted to get away from his foster home

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk