Coroner makes finding on sudden deaths of four teens

By Mark Story -
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Photo / iStock
Photo / iStock

A coroner has found domestic violence and online bullying to be major factors in a string of youth suicides in the Hawke's Bay suburb of Flaxmere.

A series of inquests were held in 2014 and 2015 into the deaths of four 15-year-old girls, three who knew each other.

In her reports, Coroner Carla na Nagara says one striking feature of each case was that all girls had been exposed to domestic violence and each girl was the victim of bullying and abuse on social media.

She says the destructive communication was derogatory, harsh and nasty, reflecting a pack mentality because of jealously and insecurity.

The coroner found there were "multiple stressors" within families surrounding the sudden deaths of four 15-year-old girls in Flaxmere.

Findings for the joint inquest for Lesha Ruben Ngatuere, Jahnaya Wikitoria Staples, Ebony Rose Karangaroa-McKenzie and Deichan Jarnika Teri Whaanga, who took their own lives between July 2013 and August 2014, were released today by Coroner Carla na Nagara.

Parental separation, difficult relationships with step-parents, weak relationships with biological parents and high levels of responsibility for younger siblings, family violence and alcohol and drug abuse were some of the many factors cited in the findings.

The coroner said while each of the girls was "loved and mourned" by their families, there were also had issues with "negative and destructive social media communications".
Three of the four had involvement with Child,Youth and Family, and one was found roaming the streets at night.

Findings showed the inquest held was different to that of most coronial inquests, with a "free-ranging and frank exploration of the issues".

The findings showed at three of the girls, Lesha, Ebony and Deichan, had been exposed to "high levels of violence:" in an ongoing way. The report said little was known of the violence in Jahnaya's life.

"One of the issues that emerged early in respect of the deaths of all the girls was bullying," Coroner na Nagara said. "The view I formed of the evidence to me is that each girl was at various times a victim of bullying and abuse on social media, principally Facebook. This destructive communication was derogatory, accusatory, harsh and nasty, reflecting a pack mentality borne of jealousy, insecurity, low self esteem and a desperate, misguided grasp for acceptance by others."

She said the girls "gave as good as they got", but the evidence showed they were significantly hurt by the communications.

Various social agency input was also put under the spotlight, with the coroner claiming her overriding concern was that there was currently a statutory model of intervention that focussed on discrete events, and not a cumulative picture, which "is not able to provide ongoing insight".

Issues raised were not unique to Flaxmere, she said, "and it would be wrong to consider the findings irrelevant to other communities with similar levels of social deprivation and disadvantage."

Where to get help

• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)

• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)

• Youthline: 0800 376 633

• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)

• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)

• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

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