Toddler dies in marae accident

By Elizabeth Binning, Errol Kiong, Martha McKenzie-Minifie

A 3-year-old boy died at a West Auckland kohanga reo yesterday after being struck by a falling metal gate.

People who saw the accident rushed to the aid of Louis Schmidt-Peke at the kohanga reo in Glen Eden, but could do little except lift the heavy gate off his body.

A St John spokeswoman said two ambulances were sent to the scene after the 12.30pm accident, but the boy had died by the time they arrived.

Police and Occupational Safety and Health are investigating the death.

It was not known last night what caused the gate to fall, but members of the Hoani Waititi Marae are demanding answers, saying the childcare centre was built only two years ago.

The kohanga reo is at Parrs Park and is attached to the marae

The youngster was said to be the only son and youngest child in a large, tight-knit family.

The whanau were meeting last night and a family member said they had no comment to make.

Katarina Tuoro, who runs a kapa haka group at Hoani Waititi, said the little boy was a cherished child and the family had been associated with the marae for many years.

"Louis was a lovely little boy and his family are absolutely heartbroken, as is the marae," she said.

"He was a late arrival, and his family adored him."

Ms Tuoro said there were still questions to be answered about how the accident happened at a relatively new facility.

"We want to know how a heavy gate fell on a 3-year-old child," she said.

The kohanga reo was built only a couple of years ago and was "totally child friendly", she said.

"We can't believe this happened. It was built to the highest standards. The fences are all rounded off so there are no sharp edges."

A family friend said the little boy started at the kohanga reo about two years ago.

"The whole whanau has grown up on the marae ... We are all really upset as our kids have all grown up together."

Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples, who started the first kura kaupapa Maori at the marae in 1985 and remains a director of programmes at Hoani Waititi, was told of the tragedy yesterday afternoon.

"There's so much stress and trauma in the whole marae," said Dr Sharples, who is the MP for Tamaki Makaurau.

He referred queries to the managers of the kohanga.

Acting Detective Senior Sergeant Pete Litherland said clarifying details of how the accident happened and questioning witnesses would be part of the police investigation.

A small team of officers was investigating but the death was not being treated as suspicious.

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