Moko and his 8-year-old sister had been entrusted to Tania Shailer, a former early childhood teacher, by their mother, so she could remain with their older brother, who was in Starship hospital. The family live in Taupo, and Starship is in Auckland, a 5-hour drive away, so it made sense to leave the other two children in good hands and stay in Auckland. Shailer and the mother were friends, and Shailer's experience with young children made her the natural choice of caregiver for a worried mother who wanted to stay at the bedside of her sick child.
Warning: The following contains graphic descriptions of acts of violence perpetrated against an innocent child. Please use discretion in choosing whether to read this segment of the post, as some readers may find it very upsetting.
Over the course of the two months which Moko and his sister, Aroha* spent with Shailer and Haewera, Moko was kicked, punched, thrown into walls, dropped on the floor face first, slapped with a sandal, bitten and stomped on by two full-grown adults. He had feces rubbed in his face, was denied food and water, and was not given any medical treatment, even though if likely would have saved his life, severe as his injuries were, if he'd been taken to hospital just a few days earlier.
When Moko was finally taken to Taupo Hospital and admitted to the intensive care unit, he was suffering from internal hemorrhaging, swelling of the brain and septic shock from a ruptured bowel. His face was badly swollen, and every inch of his tiny body was covered in bruises, abrasions and human bite marks.
As if that wasn't heartbreaking enough, Moko had been in that condition for four days before the people responsible bothered to take him to hospital. When Moko died, his tiny body was so damaged by the vicious attacks he'd endured, that he was barely recognisable to his own mother and aunt, when they went to identify him in the morgue.
At this point, you might be thinking that this awful tragedy couldn't get any worse, but you'd be wrong about that. It can, and it did. Because Moko's sister, only 7-years-old at the time, was forced to witness the malicious acts of violence that Shailer and Haewera perpetrated on her little brother. Aroha tried to protect him as much as she was able to, but what hope does a 7-year-old have of defending against two adults?
Moko's brave sister hid him in a closet so he wouldn't be beaten, she tried to sneak food and water to him, and was punished herself for doing so. Aroha wanted desperately to tell someone what was happening, but Shailer and Haewera told her that they would kill her mother if she said anything. She was afraid to go to school each day because she was worried about what the couple might do to Moko while she wasn't there.
And the final, most aggregious act perpetrated by this pair of oxygen bandits...during Moko's last beating, before he died, Shailer and Haewera forced Aroha to join in. They made her kick her terribly injured little brother, and after he died, told her that it was her actions that had killed him.
There are no words that can express the horror and anger that I feel just writing about this, as well as the incredible sympathy and heartbreak for Aroha and what she must be going through. I'm an atheist, so I don't believe in the devil or anything like that, but I do believe that what these two people did to Moko and his sister was pure, unadulterated evil.
Moko died a slow, agonising death, murdered in cold blood over an eight week period at the hands of Tania Shailer and David Haewera. But if you're reading Moko's story for the first time, and hoping that Shailer and Haewera were punished with the full force of the law, I'm sorry to have to disappoint you.
Last week, these baby-killers were given a downgraded charge of manslaughter in exchange for a guilty plea. They will reappear for sentencing in the Rotorua High Court on June 27th, and we can only hope, will be given the harshest possible sentence by the judge. If I am able to arrange it, I fully intend to be there outside that court for the sentencing, sign in hand, to highlight the grave injustice of letting these vicious scumbags away with manslaughter.
Tania Shailer and David Haewera systematically tortured and beat that little boy over the course of 60 days, until his body was so damaged that it could no longer sustain life. That's not manslaughter, that's murder! These people are murderers. They are vicious killers and they should never be allowed to walk the streets again or come within 5 feet of a child for the rest of their lives!
Now we come to the latest tragic twist in this case. Since the court case has finished, the media have been allowed to reveal that David Haewera is a close relative of Ben Haewera, another convicted child killer. Ben Haewera was sentenced to 12 years in prison for beating his 5-year-old stepson, James Whakaruru, to death in 1999, and there are a number of frightening similarities in how James and Moko died.
Ben Haewera had been abusing little James for years, yet nothing had been done, despite the fact that Ben had already served nine months in prison for abusing James when he was just 2-years-old. After James died and Ben Haewera was convicted, the country was shocked and outraged to learn the full extent of the abuse James suffered, and just how badly authorities had dropped the ball and failed to save his life.
James' mother and step-father, as well as relatives on both sides of his family had come to the attention of child welfare and youth justice organisations on numerous occasions. James had been admitted to Accident & Emergency many times, with serious injuries, but doctors who treated him failed to recognise the ongoing abuse. Neighbours and friends of the family knew what was going on but all assumed that "somebody else" would do something about it. Everyone in James' life failed him on some level, right up to his death.
Like Moko, James endured sustained, regular physical abuse over a long period of time, until his ravaged body could not take any more abuse. The details of what James suffered at the hands of his step-father are just as sickening as the abuse suffered by Moko Rangitoheriri, so I will not go over those details. I will include links to some of the many news articles covering the case, so that those who wish to can learn more about James' life and tragic death.
James Whakaruru could have been saved, had people paid attention and stepped up and done something instead of turning a blind eye, or assuming that someone else would take care of it. Moko's death can't be blamed on the system failing him, because the system had no involvement, and no one knew or even suspected what was happening to Moko until it was too late. However, both Tania Shailer and David Haewera have attempted to mitigate their guilt by claiming that they weren't coping with having Moko and Aroha to care for, as well as their own four children. I don't know if that's true, but if there's any grain of truth in that claim, all they needed to do was speak up and ask for help.
New Zealand's death toll of abused children just keeps on rising, and we, as a country, are not doing nearly enough to stem that tide. By allowing Moko's murderers to plead to manslaughter, we send a message to every child abuser that they won't be punished to the full extent of the law, that we don't care enough about this nation's children to put their abusers away for a long, long time.
But this isn't about punitive sentencing, because sentencing only comes after a child has died. We have to do more to stop violence in the home before it's too late. We have to do more to combat the things that fuel family violence, like poverty and addictions. Only when we work to mitigate all of the contributing factors in family violence will we start saving more children from a violent death.
There is a forum on Facebook for people who want to express their anger and frustration over Moko's tragic death and the heinous plea deal given to his killers. There is a rally planned for the 27th of June, outside the Rotorua High Court, to coincide with the sentencing of Tania Shailer and David Haewera, please consider coming along and showing your support. You can find all the relevant information at Justice For Moko.
Killed by his carers: Moko's last days - NZ Herald
Inquest to be held in toddler's death - NZ Herald
Now who will march for Moko? - Stuff.co.nz
Carer forced sister to deliver final blow to Moko - Stuff.co.nz
Child's road to a lonely, brutal death - NZ Herald
James Whakaruru killer in trouble again - Newshub
James Whakaruru Report - For Our Children