Northlanders struggle in wake of shocking Ruakākā and Whangārei deaths

teddy bear on the ground

A pink teddy placed outside a daycare centre attended by one of the two children killed in Ruakākā earlier this month.
Photo: Amy Williams / RNZ

It has been a week since the police launched a double homicide investigation and charged a woman with murder, after finding the bodies of two children at a Ruakākā home.

The small Northland town was rallying together, but the tragedy came soon after two other deaths in Whangārei that rocked the interconnected communities.

It was just a half-hour drive from Whangārei to Ruakākā and many, like Jodi Sumpton, straddle both city and town. She lived in Whangārei and had a neighbour whose nephew died earlier this month on a school caving trip.

Sumpton also visited Ruakākā for work, and knew people there who were reeling from shock.

“It impacts that feeling of that interconnectedness that all the little communities have within Northland. It’s such a nice community within all the communities and then for something like this to happen you just feel that loss of connection between communities. How did something like this happen?”

Sumpton was on leave from her job as a mental health support worker, but she knew many who were feeling anxious and fearful after the tragic Ruakākā deaths.

“To not know what’s happening next door to you and find out something so horrible like that, stops you from wanting to go to the local park or even hang out at the shops anymore. There’s just like a heavy darkness that hangs over.”

The murder accused appeared in the Whangārei District Court in a distressed state and entered no plea to the two murder charges.

The murder accused appeared in the Whangārei District Court on Tuesday in a distressed state and entered no plea to the two murder charges.
Photo: Stuff / Denise Piper

She said a man’s death following an altercation at a Gull service station in Whangārei last month also put residents on edge.

This time last week, the Ruakākā community was struggling to comprehend the sudden loss of two children.

The woman charged with their murder entered no plea when she appeared at Whangārei District Court last Tuesday, and has been remanded in custody. She cannot be named.

The police acknowledged there would be a sadness rippling throughout the community for some time to come. Whangārei Mayor Vince Cocurullo said it would take time to process.

“Most people in Ruakākā and in Whangārei are still just dealing with their emotions, their feelings about the whole situation.”

He said support was available for anyone who needed it.

“The agencies are there to help and allow people to get through the stress. There are several organisations provided by different community groups.”

In the days following the children’s deaths, Takahiwai Marae held an evening for parents of children in the area to hear from experts about how to talk about the tragedy. Neuroscience educator Nathan Wallis was among the speakers to dial in on Zoom.

“What they were really concerned about was how to respond to their children, because it’s a traumatic thing and not something they can shield their children from because everyone’s talking about it. It’s something they have to talk to their children about, so they wanted some guidelines and principles on what allows a child to be resilient through something like this.”

Police block the road following a double homicide in Ruakākā.

Police block the road after two bodies were found in Ruakākā.
Photo: RNZ / Amy Williams

He said it was not necessary to give kids all the details, but it was important to allow them to open up and when they did, to offer reassurance.

“When you respond, validate their emotions because most of their worldview is emotional. Then give them a positive strategy to finish with. It can be as simple as. ‘I’m sure everybody concerned is getting all the help they can get now,’ so they feel like something’s being done and it ends in a positive statement.”

From what he had seen, Wallis said the Ruakākā community was strong and doing the right things to help its recovery.

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