Vaimoana Tapaleao is the New Zealand Herald's Pacific Affairs and People reporter.

Sister's plea saves teen crim

Axe attacker's outstanding efforts to turn his life around earn award from Governor-General.

Alex MacKay is preparing to travel to Africa to work as a missionary. Photo / Dean Purcell
Alex MacKay is preparing to travel to Africa to work as a missionary. Photo / Dean Purcell

When Alex MacKay was in a cell and heard his sister crying and pleading over the phone for him to stop and think before turning to crime again, he listened.

The Kaikohe teenager - now 18 - was in a Child, Youth and Family youth justice facility after he and two mates attacked a man with an axe. That was just over two years ago.

He had been reprimanded for other "little crimes", including car thefts and burglaries, he said, but this was the worst.

"One day, my sister came to visit me. Afterwards, this other guy commented that she was hot and I just wanted to kill him. I was going to kill him. I was just so angry."

Mr MacKay phoned his sister and it was this conversation that ultimately led to a path to freedom.

"I told her what that guy had said and that I was going to kill him. She was crying and she asked me to just stop.

"Then she told me she was pregnant and that I had to be there for her and my family. That's what got to me. I just felt like I had to change things in my life [because] I wanted out."

His change in attitude and behaviour got him referred to the Mentoring Youth New Direction (MYND) programme - an initiative set up to help young offenders make a change.

"It was weird ... it was like I just wanted to do something with myself now," Mr MacKay said.

On Friday, he was one of 19 young people recognised at the Foundation for Youth Development excellence awards, for outstanding achievements. The ceremony, held at Government House in Auckland, acknowledged the accomplishments and extraordinary personal changes young people had made.

Recipients from around the country received awards from Sir Jerry Mateparae, the Governor-General.

Mr MacKay's love of rugby league flourished after he was freed in 2010 and he was signed up to the East Queensland and Queensland Maori league teams.

He has also been offered contracts with other top league teams, but has passed them up as he prepares for Mormon missionary work in Africa.

Speaking about his past life, he said it was a sad thing knowing he had got out and others hadn't.

"I know so many guys inside who could be NRL [National Rugby League] stars and other great things." Mr MacKay said.

"When you do those burglaries and stuff, it's worth it at the time because you get what you want. But now that I'm here, I've got lots more.

"I'm just really lucky I had support from my family, which a lot of those guys don't have."

- NZ Herald

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