Sisters dragged kicking and screaming out of country
IT WAS a pre-dawn dark outside Brisbane's international terminal and the passengers crowded at gate 75 awaited their flight with bored yawns.
But then the screaming started. Little girls, their feet dragging on the ground, held between burly Australian Federal Police officers, were hauled past passengers to a private lounge.
They were hysterical and struggling, calling for their mother, screaming to go home, screaming for the police to release them.
Two of them were tiny - little girls crying for their mother. And the passengers cried too.
Women hugged their husbands, wept into phones.
"It's those girls," they whispered, as one by one, the four sisters were dragged by.
It had been a months-long public war, a tug-of-love played out in the pages of newspapers, on the screens of Queensland televisions.
Four sisters - the older two, Emily and Claire, aged 14 and 15, and the younger, Lily and Christine, just 7 and 9 - were desperate to remain in their new home of Australia, where they'd been brought by their mother two years earlier.
Laura Garrett travelled to Italy in the 1990s as an exchange student. While there, she had fallen in love with Tommaso Vincenti, the son of her billet family.
They married and had four daughters. But in 2010, Laura fled home to Queensland with her girls, claiming she had no choice.
Two years later, a bitter custody battle spilled into the public arena when the girls were sent back to Italy to live with their father.
So when the screams of young girls cut through the quiet of the international departures gate, many realised what was happening.
One by one, the four Vincenti sisters were forced through the airport, dragged and carried between uniformed officers.
Up to a dozen AFP officers manhandled the little girls past the shocked passengers at gate 75 to a nearby airport lounge.
In another part of the airport, a bereft Laura shouted and cried for them, even though they were out of her sight.
At the gate, one of the younger girls, her arms held by two officers, wailed and screamed and struggled to break free.
"Let me go, I want my mum, I want my mum!" she cried.
One of the older sisters was restrained by four officers as she screamed hysterically.
"Let me go, I want to go home," she shouted.
Passengers looked on in shock. Some burst into tears. Others took out their phones and made calls, recounting the horror in front of them.
They murmured words like "awful" and "terrible". They hugged their travel companions.
Later, the same sister was dragged back past the gate where they attempted to make her board the flight.
"Please let go. You're hurting me. I don't want to go," she screamed.
She dragged her feet along the ground, desperate to stay.
One police officer appeared to be losing patience.
"Now you're going to get back on the plane," he said sternly.
The four girls were taken to their seats but it soon became obvious the situation was hopeless. The two older sisters, Emily and Claire, were too distressed and the pilot refused to take them.
Social workers sat with the younger girls, talking to them quietly, and soon they were calm.
The following day, the two older sisters were loaded onto a new flight.
But it wasn't an easy new life for the four girls sent to live in their family villa in the Italian countryside. Six years later, that separation between sisters is still there, the younger girls living with their father and the older two reunited with their mother. Six years later, they would still be trying to understand the truth of the international legal battle that tore them apart.