Morgan Tait is the NZ Herald's police reporter.

Ross Bremner case: Grieving daughter pens opens letter after parents' murder

They died at the hands of a man facing mental health struggles, and now their only daughter is calling for urgent changes to prevent further tragedies.

In a powerful open letter, Jo Kukutai has spoken publicly for the first time since her parents Mona Tuwhangai, 80, and Maurice O'Donnell, 72, were found dead at their Kawhia bach earlier this month.

The body of Ross Bremner was found alongside them, four days after he stabbed his mother, Clare, 60, to death and critically injured his father, Keith, 64, at their Otorohanga home.

Kukutai spoke of her parents' lives in the letter, their close 50-year relationship and the grief following their sudden, avoidable deaths.

"My Mum and Dad were all that I had and it was only ever the three of us until I had a family of my own," she said.

"They meant the world to me. I was blessed to have my parents as my Mum and Dad. They gave me an abundance of opportunities and imparted in me a significant amount of life lessons."

She spoke of her parents' bond with her own two children, Sterling and Taylor, and her husband, Hika.

There was no ill feeling towards the Bremner family, and she and her husband attended Ross' and Clare's joint funeral, she said.

"This is a time for grace, forgiveness, love and unity, rather than recriminations on whānau and community members.

"The Bremners are a beautiful family and we have shared some very personal and private moments together.

"Our hearts go out to the Bremners for their loss and we were grateful to have a member of the Bremner family attend my parents' tangi (funeral)."

However, Kukutai echoed calls for an urgent review into mental health care.

Ross was an out patient of the Waikato District Health Board's mental health services at the time of his rampage, and his family had reportedly tried to seek further help for him in the weeks leading up to the tragic events.

The DHB has announced it will be conducting a review of its services in light of the events.

"While it is too late for my family, it is my hope that, if the review highlights any systemic issues that need addressing, that these matters are corrected promptly to minimise the risk of such devastation to future families.

"Since burying my parents, I note that there have been other tragic incidents in NZ regarding other families and members who have suffered from mental health.

"This needs to stop so other families are not put through the same situation that we now face."

Since the Bremner killings, mental health advocates and community members have voiced strong concerns at the ability of DHBs to cater to the need for services, and have called for a national inquiry.

It is understood members of the Bremner family and wider Otorohanga community are preparing to take action against health authorities.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman has repeatedly denied the need for a national inquiry, and a spokeswoman from his office last night said he had nothing to add to previous comments on the issue.

Friends and family grieve at the deaths of Mona Tuwhangai and Maurice O'Donnell at their Kawhia bach. Photo / Alan Gibson
Friends and family grieve at the deaths of Mona Tuwhangai and Maurice O'Donnell at their Kawhia bach. Photo / Alan Gibson

The letter

Tihei mauri ora!

Ko te wehi ki a Ihoa, te timatanga me te whakaotinga o nga mea katoa.

Ki nga mate huhua o te wa nei, tae noa kioku matua, ki era o te whanau Bremner, haere, haere, okioki atu ra.

Huri noa ki a tatou, nga morehu o ratouma, tena koutou, tena tatou katoa.

Behold! I pay homage to God, the beginning and conclusion of all things.

To the many deceased of this time, indeed to my parents and those of the Bremner family, I bid you farewell to your final rest.

Turning to us, the survivors of those people, I bid you all greetings.

In the early hours of Saturday October 8, 2016, my family and I received the devastating news that my parents had been murdered in their home.

My Mum was Mona Tuwhangai (80 years) and my Dad was Maurice O'Donnell (72 years). As an only child, I was very close to my parents and loved them immensely. They spent 50 wonderful years together and are now together at rest in eternity.

Mum was a native speaker of Te Reo Maori and was raised by her grandparents Mihiata and Hori Barrett in Kinohaku, Kawhia.

In the 1950s Mum moved to Petone, Wellington, where she spent much of her adult life working in various factory jobs and lastly as a Barnardos caregiver and teacher aide in the Maori Unit at Petone Central School, before returning to Kinohaku in 1993 to care for her elderly father.

My mum was a creative sort. An accomplished weaver of Maori arts, her works had been displayed at the Te Maori Exhibition in 1986. Her favourite pastimes were gathering seafood, floundering, pottering around in her gardens, spending time with her whanau and watching what she would call "soaps".

Mum was the eldest child of Joe Tuwhangai from Kinohaku and Mataara Tuwhangai (nee Barrett) from Taringamotu, Taumarunui, who have since passed.

Dad was a Taranaki boy from Waitara and spent most of his young life in New Plymouth and the wider Taranaki before he moved to Wellington. He was the son of Charlie and Kathleen O'Donnell (nee Green).

My dad worked at Griffins and other manufacturing companies, he was a lifetime member of the Fire Service and, before moving to Kinohaku, Kawhia, with my mum, he was the superintendent of works at the Petone Borough Council.

Dad was also an expert craftsman in leatherwork. He had a passion for rose gardens and baking and loved reading. He was well known for his roles within the darts community at national, regional and local levels. Both of my parents were avid darts players and travelled New Zealand playing darts.

My mum and dad were all that I had and it was only ever the three of us until I had a family of my own. They meant the world to me. My parents adored their granddaughter, Taylor, and their grandson, Sterling, and had such a huge influence in their young lives.

My husband, Hika, was their son they never had and they loved him dearly. I was blessed to have my parents as my mum and dad. They gave me an abundance of opportunities and imparted in me a significant amount of life lessons.

My husband and I attended the Bremner funerals for Clare and Ross to honour them and their lives.

The Bremners are a beautiful family and we have shared some very personal and private moments together. Our hearts go out to the Bremners for their loss and we were grateful to have a member of the Bremner family attend my parents' tangi (funeral).

This tragedy has also affected the wider Kinohaku, Taharoa, Kawhia, Otorohanga, Te Kuiti and Taumarunui communities and it was gratifying to hear of the community gathering at the Bremner household for the memorial.

This is a time for grace, forgiveness, love and unity, rather than recriminations on whanau and community members.

I understand that the Waikato District Health Board will be conducting a review of its mental health care processes. And we welcome this review and request urgency in this regard.

While it is too late for my family, it is my hope that, if the review highlights any systemic issues that need addressing, these matters are corrected promptly to minimise the risk of such devastation to future families. Since burying my parents, I note there have been other tragic incidents in NZ regarding other families and members who have suffered from mental health issues.

This needs to stop so other families are not put through the same situation we now face.

I wish to thank the NZ Police, Maniapoto Maori Trust Board, Simplicity Bereavement Services, Brymer Group Ltd, all of the many churches, friends and whanau and Ngati Hari for hosting such a beautiful farewell and for acknowledging the lives of both Mum and Dad at Hia-Kaitupeka, Taringamotu, Taumarunui.

Without a doubt, this has been a tremendously difficult time but God has been our strength and our faith in the saviour, Jesus Christ, has enabled us to carry on.

We love you Mum and Dad, you were honest and genuine people and you will forever be missed. Until we see you again, rest now, in the arms of our loving God in Heaven. Amen, thank you Jesus.

Arohanui,

Jo, Hika, Taylor and Sterling xxxx

- NZ Herald

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