The last words Yiel Gatluak said to his mother were “I love you”.

It was New Year’s Eve and Nyatut Kaf was chatting to her son on the phone, dreaming of the future. 

Her 19-year-old had moved to Alice Springs right after high school to begin his career as a mechanic. 

He soon fell in love with the warmth and wild beauty of the desert town, and couldn’t wait for his family to join him.

But last week, on New Year’s Day, tragedy struck. Yiel’s body was found in suspicious circumstances on a remote road east of Alice Springs, prompting a police investigation.

A photo of a young African man is on a phone screen

Yiel Gatluak’s family are seeking answers after he was found dead near Alice Springs. (ABC News: Xavier Martin)

“We were supposed to come on the 15th, me and the little one,” Nyatut said.

“He always said, ‘Come, there are so many women here who are working, I’ll rent the place for us, come with my little brother’.”

That New Year’s Eve night, they spoke of those dreams, making final plans for the family’s big move to the Red Centre, before saying goodbye. 

It would be the last time they spoke.

The next day, Nyatut received the news that would “turn her world upside down”.

A woman of African descent, with a tear rolling down her cheeks, holding her hands to the sky crying

Yiel’s mother Nyatut Kaf was preparing to visit her son in Alice Springs when she found out he had died. (ABC News: Charmayne Allison)

Community in mourning

Yiel’s body was found around 12:30pm on January 1 along an unsealed section of Undoolya Road, by a motorist who contacted emergency services.

Police investigated his death as suspicious from the start.

This week, Yiel’s family and members of Alice Springs’ Sudanese community gathered to erect a memorial where the young man’s body was discovered.

Under the blazing desert sun, they laid flowers against a white cross and sang together.

They said it was a “song of hope” that one day, they would be reunited with Yiel in heaven.

But underneath their hope was a deep grief, anger and a desperate plea for answers.

A woman of African descent standing next to a remote roadside crying

Yiel’s family sing a “song of hope” for him. (ABC News: Charmayne Allison)

On Tuesday, police announced three Alice Springs residents, believed to be known to Yiel, had been arrested over his death and were expected to be charged – a teenager and two men, aged 20 and 21.

They confirmed the incident was being investigated as a homicide.

It was also confirmed that Yiel had sustained injuries, though police said they were “not penetrative in nature”. 

Family calls for justice

Yiel’s father, Deng Gatluak, said he had no idea why someone would hurt his “lovely son”.

“If you ask him ‘do you have anything in your pocket?’, he’d literally give [it] to you,” he said.

“He’s smiling. A lot of happiness you can find from him.”

a young african man sitting behind weights at a gym

Yiel Gatluak’s family are raising money to return his body to Melbourne. (Supplied: Chuol Yat)

Deng also remembers his precious last conversations with his son in the days before his death.

“He called me to say Merry Christmas. But he did not get to tell me Happy New Year,” he said.

Yiel’s family has this week launched a fundraising page to bring their beloved son home to Melbourne, where they will bury him.

In the meantime, they are pleading for justice.

An aerial photo of a dirt road through a vast desert landscape

Yiel’s body was found on an access road to Undoolya Station. (ABC News: Xavier Martin)

“We are getting closer to the answers now that we need, and that has been my prayer since the first day when I heard the news,” Nyatut said.

“Let me not bury my son before knowing what was done to him.”


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