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A silent shame: Mother of child homicide victim calls for adults to speak out about family violence

A silent shame: Mother of child homicide victim calls for adults to speak out about family violence

The mother of a boy whose death remains unsolved says it’s vital that adults speak up whenever they see violence against children.

Jessica Taylor’s son Atreyu Taylor-Matene died in Starship Hospital on 12 July 2013, four days after his first birthday.

A coroner determined Atreyu’s cause of death was traumatic brain injury caused by blunt trauma to the head.

​Atreyu and his mother Jessica Taylor had recently moved in to a Whangarei house owned by her then boyfriend, Chris Whaley.

READ MORE:
 Child homicide: New Zealand’s enduring shame
The Homicide Report
Who killed Atreyu?
Family not telling police ‘crucial’ details after boy critically injured
The cause of a baby’s death unresolved for 10 years
Mother, ex-boyfriend ‘persons of interest’ in baby’s death

They were the only two other people at home when he suffered the traumatic brain injuries that led to his death.

Police investigating Atreyu’s death have previously said they had their sights firmly locked on one person.

Speaking for the first time about her son’s death, Jessica Taylor said there wasn’t a day that went by when she didn’t think about her son. 

<img class="lazyimg" angel boy' Atreyu every single day.

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“Whenever I’m around kids his age I wonder what would my son be like. I keep my angel boy in a special place in my heart.

 

Taylor remembers Atreyu as a “really smiley, cheeky boy”.

“He was smart for such a little boy.

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After his death, she felt unfairly targeted by media coverage. 

“When it happened, all the media just chucked me out there, and I felt burned I felt like why should I say anything when you people have already painted a picture of me like this.

 

“I’m not this horrible mother that the media painted me out to be.”

She’s since had two more boys, who are in her care, and she sees her ‘angel boy’ Atreyu in the eldest, who is now four.

  

She says her former partner “lawyered up” after Atreyu’s death. “He did one interview and hasn’t talked to the police since.

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She hopes someone will be held accountable. 

“I always hold onto that hope that they’ll give me the closure I need for my son, but every time I’ve talked to them I don’t feel like they’re any closer to giving me any closure.

“I have given police everything I heard, saw, everything. I haven’t hidden anything from them.

I haven’t even got a lawyer to do any of that, because there’s nothing for me to hide.”

Calls for changes to New Zealands “right to silence‘ laws have reared again after a 4-year-old boy was found with horrific brain injuries in Flaxmere in January.

Family members have remained silent about how the injuries were inflicted, leading to public vigils in the Hawkes Bay town.

For Taylor, The Flaxmere case brought all of the pain of losing Atreyu flooding back.

 

She has a message for anyone who knows what happened to the boy.

“I would like to say to them to tell the police anything you know.

anything you’ve heard, anything you saw, anything that didn’t feel right. I did.

In a statement this week, the head of the inquiry into Atreyu’s death, Detective Senior Sergeant John Clayton said: “This matter is still an active investigation.

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“For that reason, police are not in a position to comment on specific details as this may risk compromising any ongoing investigation into this case.

There are at least four investigations into the violent death of a child in the past 15 years that have been thwarted by adult suspects or their wider family members invoking their right to silence.

Staranise Waru’s death in 2006 was another case where two people – her parents – were home at the time the 7-month-old child sustained fatal injuries, but police were unable to bring charges.

Similarly after 3-month-old Soul Turany died in 2014, his mother and her then partner were named as ‘persons of interest’ in her death, but charges have not been laid.

In 2006, during the trial of Chris Kahui for the murder of his twin babies Cris and Cru, the right to silence was evoked by the wider Kahui family.

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Under New Zealand law, everyone suspected of a crime is legally entitled not to speak to police to avoid incriminating themselves.

Children‘s Commissioner Andrew Becroft has called for the right to silence to be abolished, saying that “the fact you might incriminate yourself isn’t a reason for not talking”.

Justice Minister Andrew Little this week ruled out changing the law.

“I could not conceive of such a power to compel someone to make a statement ever being acceptable to New Zealanders,” Little said in a statement.

Nearly 18,000 people have signed a petition calling for the law to be overturned.

The Homicide Report, an ongoing Stuff investigation into murders and manslaughters committed in New Zealand since 2004, found 11 cases of child homicide in that period remain unsolved.

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