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Lilie James identified as woman found dead at Sydney private school, police searching for male colleague

Police are searching for St Andrews Cathedral School alumnus and sports coach Paul Thijssen in relation to the death of a young water polo coach, whose body was found in a bathroom at the inner city school’s gymnasium.

Emergency services were called to the school just before midnight on Wednesday, and found the body of Lilie James, a water polo coach and university student in her early 20s. Police said she had suffered serious head injuries.

Lilie James was found dead in the school’s gym bathroom on Wednesday night.

Lilie James was found dead in the school’s gym bathroom on Wednesday night.Credit: Facebook

Police are treating her death as a homicide and are searching Sydney’s eastern suburbs for Thijssen, who they want to question over her death.

Thijssen graduated from the high-fee Anglican school in 2017 and worked as a cricket and hockey coach. He was also an after-hours coordinator, helping with logistics such as moving desks and setting up classrooms.

He was studying a master of teaching, hoping to become a PE teacher. A source with knowledge of the case confirmed the identities of both, on the condition of anonymity.

On Thursday morning, a second crime scene was established in Vaucluse, near Diamond Bay Reserve, as investigators search for Thijssen. Police helicopters have been circling the area.

Paul Thijssen’s photograph on Linkedin

Paul Thijssen’s photograph on Linkedin

Superintendent Martin Fileman said the woman had serious head injuries. “The actual scene itself was quite confronting for the police who turned up,” he said.

Fileman confirmed police had attended a property in Vaucluse they believed was linked to the crime scene and were searching for a male staff member who they believe could assist with inquiries.

“We don’t want to make any assumptions of the fact that that person may have taken his own life, but that’s just another line of inquiry we’re looking at at the moment,” he said.

The woman is yet to be formally identified. A crime scene has been established and was being forensically examined on Thursday morning. Fileman said the two people knew each other.

Police have established a crime scene at Diamond Bay in Vaucluse.

Police have established a crime scene at Diamond Bay in Vaucluse.Credit: Nick Moir

“There’s nothing to indicate that there was any domestic violence, any [apprehended violence orders] or anything between both of them,” he said.

A post-mortem examination would be conducted to formally determine the cause of the woman’s death.

“From her injuries, it was apparent that she was a victim of homicide,” Fileman said.

“As you can probably imagine, it’s an extremely daunting experience, a very sad time for everybody. Not only the families, the students also who are turning up today to be confronted by this.”

Local detectives, with assistance from the State Crime Command’s homicide squad, have commenced an investigation into the woman’s death under Strike Force Trineura.

In a message to parents on Thursday morning, St Andrew’s Cathedral School confirmed the school would be closed on Thursday and Friday “due to a critical incident”.

A second message to parents confirmed no students were involved in the incident.

“Police are currently conducting an investigation in the SAH building. We will keep you updated,” the text stated.

The head of St Andrew’s, Dr Julie McGonigle, said in an email to parents that the school continued to work with police following the death.

“I realise you will have a lot of questions, but we do not have the authority to release further details – this information will come through police at the appropriate time in their investigation,” she said.

She informed parents that IB and HSC exams would go ahead at a separate campus on Thursday and Friday.

“We have also brought our school counsellors onsite so if parents or students require additional support, this can be delivered by professionals,” she said.

In a statement, the school confirmed the only students onsite were those sitting exams in the third week of HSC.

“We ask that the media does not seek to interrupt their concentration or state of mind as they sit exams that are significant for their graduation,” a spokesperson said.

More to come

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