Bremner rampage: Father stabbed by son doesn't know how family died

By Carolyne Meng-Yee

Keith Bremner with daughter, Loren, and wife, Clare. Photo / Supplied
Keith Bremner with daughter, Loren, and wife, Clare. Photo / Supplied

The sole survivor of the Ross Bremner killings - his dad Keith - still doesn't know how his son and wife died.

Ross, a diagnosed schizophrenic, fatally stabbed his mother Clare, 60, and left Keith, 64, with serious knife wounds after an attack at the family's Otorohanga home more than four months ago.

Three days later Ross' body was found alongside those of Maurice O'Donnell, 72, and his wife Mona Tuwhangai, 82, at the couple's property near Kawhia, about 65km away.

This week Keith's youngest brother Jim told the Herald his sibling was recuperating slowly at a rehab centre in Auckland. He can talk but still can't walk.

During the attack Keith had his jaw broken, and suffered cuts to his throat and chest.

As the farmer lay unconscious before help arrived he had a stroke and is paralysed on one side.

Jim says his brother can remember everything to the morning of the attack - October 4 - but everything is a "blank" after that. He visits his brother every two weeks and keeps the conversations "light" .

"Keith is very fragile - he is not letting on too much. I don't think he's ready to talk about what's happened yet. The only time he has talked about Clare was about a cruise they went on.

"I think it's too hard for him to go there yet. Maybe he's blocking things out."
Jim said he was "too chicken" to tell Keith his wife and son were dead. That was done by his 90 year-old mother and sister.

Two weeks ago Keith told him he misses his two cats and was ready to go back to his Otorohanga home.

"We are a bit concerned he's not quite up to it yet. We are worried going home might trigger some horrible memories and be challenging - I mean, would you want to?"

Jim, a property manager from Matamata, was on holiday in the US with his wife Mary when they read on their iPads what Ross had done.

He is speaking publicly for the first time because he believes his family has been let down by the healthcare system and there needs to be accountability.

Ross had been an in-patient at Waikato Hospital's Henry Rongomau Bennett Centre, which treats people with mental illness.

Ross Bremner had been treated with mental illness.
Ross Bremner had been treated with mental illness.

It's been widely reported that two weeks before the attacks, Clare Bremner asked the Waikato District Health Board for help as she became increasingly concerned about her son's state of mind.

Jim said he and his wife were "numb" when they read about the attacks and learned the extent of Ross' illness.

"The really hard part is Keith and Clare kept things close to their chest - schizophrenia is a touchy subject. I learned more about Ross in the last 10 years online. We knew they had problems but we didn't know how severe."

Jim said Ross was the eldest of three siblings and a "big bloke - about 6 foot 4 [1.93 metres]". His illness made him introverted and unpredictable.

He had jobs at a Hamilton supermarket and the Mitre 10 in Te Kuiti but struggled to keep them.

Jim said he had a "gut feeling" about what Ross might do.

"He could lash out at people - he attacked a policeman a few years ago. One day I saw him and he asked me. 'Do you believe in Martians?' Another time he asked, 'Do you think Armageddon is coming'.

"With the benefit of hindsight I think things happened in the past that should have been taken notice of and weren't acted upon."

Jim was relieved his 90 year-old mother was not hurt.

"Ross and mum were very close so I was relieved she was safe. Put it this way, if he killed his mother and tried to kill his father and two others - you'd think, what is the guy capable of?"

The Waikato District Health Board completed a review of its care of Ross before Christmas but is not ready to make it public.

In a statement, the executive director of its mental health and addictions service, Derek Wright, said: "I have not yet met all the families of Mr Bremner and the Kawhia couple Maurice O'Donnell and Mona Tuwhangai, to share the findings of the review, and until that process is complete we will not be making the review report public. The review has now been passed to the Coroner and shared with the police."

General aerial view of the crime scene in the tiny settlement of Kinohaku, near Kawhia. Photo / Alan Gibson
General aerial view of the crime scene in the tiny settlement of Kinohaku, near Kawhia. Photo / Alan Gibson

Jim said he doesn't blame Ross for what happened - he didn't know what he was doing.

He hopes the inquiry will reveal "what the health authorities did or didn't do to prevent something like this happening again. I also hope the Henry Bennett Centre take notice that four people have died".

In response to specific questions about Ross Bremner's care this week, the board would not confirm whether he was seen by a mental health assessment team in the weeks before the killings.

In an open letter released last October, Jo Kukutai, the daughter of Maurice O'Donnell and Mona Tuwhangai, called for urgent changes to prevent further tragedies.

"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 district health boards to cope with demand and called for a national inquiry, something Health Minister Jonathan Coleman has repeatedly denied the need for.

Tragedy hit the Bremner family for the second time last month when Jim's sister Ann - the second youngest of six siblings - died from a brain aneurysm and renal failure.

Keith was in a coma at Waikato Hospital when his wife and son were farewelled together, but was determined to attend his sister's funeral.

"Keith was able to travel to Whakatane with two staff members [from the rehabilitation centre] but unfortunately the ambulance broke down so he missed the service," said Jim.

"He didn't want to go to the burial but he was happy to catch up friends and family over a cup of tea."

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)
Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
Samaritans 0800 726 666
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

- Herald on Sunday

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