Ceremony remembers slain mum

By Mike Barrington of the Northern Advocate -
Family and friends at the ceremony for Ashlee Edwards. Photo / APN
Family and friends at the ceremony for Ashlee Edwards. Photo / APN

Anniversary ceremonies on Saturday brought some relief for Karen Edwards after a "year of hell" since her daughter Ashlee was found dead under a Whangarei bridge.

About 50 family members and friends of the dead 21-year-old mother-of-two, whose body was found under the Tarewa Rd bridge on July 27 last year, gathered near the site to share memories of Ashlee Edwards, sing waiata, lay flowers and throw flowers into the Raumanga Stream flowing under the bridge.

Ashlee's former partner, Jimmy Akuhata, 29, has been charged with her murder.

Among those carrying the strong anti-family violence theme of the ceremony near the bridge were representatives from Whangarei Women's Refuge and a Ngati Hine organisation in which Ashlee was involved protecting young mothers from domestic violence.

John McGrath, brother of Patricia McGrath, who died after a fight with her partner in January, was there with his wife, Kate.

Karen Edwards had been among the McGrath family supporters at the High Court in Whangarei last week when Patricia's partner, Phillip Andrew Mahanga, 33, was sentenced to three years in prison for the manslaughter of the 34-year-old mother-of-two.

Karen Edwards said she had told those assembled near the Tarewa Rd bridge how her daughter had been "a happy, giggly wee soul" very sorely missed.

Mr McGrath had spoken about the need to promote Maori values protecting women and children.

Many of those at the city ceremony for Ashlee later went to Okaihau for a similar anniversary observance at her graveside.

"It was nice," Karen Edwards said yesterday. "It's been a year of hell - there's a lot of anger and hurt out there and I'm feeling a huge sense of relief that we have acknowledged this anniversary."

After Ashlee's death, her mother took custody of her two little girls, aged three and 16 months, who now live with her and her partner and their two sons.

"It's been challenging - our family grew from four to six in a flash - but the girls are thriving," she said.

While Saturday's ceremonies had helped Ashlee's family with their grieving, Karen Edwards said a rough road still lay ahead of them. Once a trial date was set for Akuhata, the family would be at the court to drive home their anti-domestic violence message: "Speak out and help out."

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