Many of the children killed in New Zealand die at the hands of a parent, step-parent or caregiver. Today the Herald speaks to a mother whose baby daughter was murdered after being tortured and abused by someone who should have kept her safe. Lisa Cassidy had no idea of the extent of the abuse to which baby Jyniah was being subjected.

Jyniah Mary Te Awa was rushed to hospital after turning blue. She was freezing cold but warmed up after her mother, Lisa Cassidy, fed her. Her symptoms mystified doctors.

But after the 10-month-old was murdered by her babysitter, the horrifying truth was revealed - she was repeatedly bundled into a freezer and left there, who knows for how long. Yet that was not all.

Jyniah died in September 2007 as a result of head injuries. Her babysitter, Tiana Mary-Anne Odessa Kapea, pleaded guilty to murdering the baby.

The murder was the tip of the iceberg. Kapea, a close friend of Jyniah's father Ike Te Awa's family, admitted systematically torturing Jyniah for much of her short life.

Jyniah Te Awa, who was murdered by caregiver and family friend Tiana Kapea in September 2007. Photo / Supplied
Jyniah Te Awa, who was murdered by caregiver and family friend Tiana Kapea in September 2007. Photo / Supplied

At home Jyniah was a happy and much-loved baby. Doctors who had seen her for check-ups and immunisations described her as "interactive", "well nourished" and a "delightful baby girl".

In Kapea's care Jyniah endured countless acts of cruelty, unable to speak up or defend herself.

The baby was left in a closed freezer, hung on the back of a wardrobe door, held against a gas heater, swung around by her short hair and hung on a clothes line. Her fatal head injury was the result of being kicked, thrown against a wall, shaken and smothered.

Woman admits killing 10-month old

At least 17-years jail for babysitter who murdered 10-month-old

Jyniah murderer "poisoned our lives" - parents

Jyniah was born in 2006, eight months after Chris and Cru Kahui. Like them, her life was cut tragically short. In a sad twist, Ms Cassidy went to school with Chris Kahui and was devastated by what happened to the twin boys.

She never imagined a similar fate awaited her baby girl.

"She would have turned 10 this year too," Ms Cassidy said.

"It doesn't get any easier. I can cope with what has happened due to extensive counselling. But no, it doesn't get any easier.

"Just the thought of what Jyniah went through without me knowing and then finding out all of the things she was subjected to later on - it was, it is a nightmare."

Ms Cassidy fainted when police first told her what her darling baby girl had been through.

"My heart broke. My world broke. Everything as I knew it had changed in that instant," she said.

"My heart's still breaking for Jyniah. It's a hard thing to explain, it's left a great big hole that can never ever be fixed or healed. You only get one heart and that caused mine to break straight through the middle. It's still there, but there is a big split through the middle. It still hurts so much every day."

Ms Cassidy and Mr Te Awa broke up after Jyniah died and she left Auckland with their other children. Now teenagers, they still see their dad but it was too hard for their parents to be together after losing the baby so brutally.

"We talk about her all the time, we talk about the happy things that we remember and what she would be like now, we don't talk about what happened," Ms Cassidy said.

"She would have been such a happy and outgoing little girl. She would have loved her brother and sister and she would have been looking forward to turning 10, just doing things little girls love."

Ms Cassidy said New Zealand needed to address the shocking child abuse rates before more innocent babies were lost.

Ms Cassidy has dedicated much of her life since Jyniah's death to raising awareness around child abuse.

"I am disgusted every time I turn on the news or read the paper and see this sort of thing happening to other babies. My heart just falls," she said.

"It is terrible. We just need to take more care of our children and anything I can to raise awareness around that - I will do."

Majority of perpetrators men - criminologist

The majority of babies and young children killed as a result of abuse in New Zealand die at the hands of a parent, step-parent or caregiver.

The majority of perpetrators are men, frequently Maori or Pacific Islanders, and always people who were similarly abused when they were young.

Criminologist Greg Newbold said the cycle of abuse and violence was exacerbated by poverty, unemployment, alcohol and drug abuse, serial parenting and parental abdication.
In short, the people killing our kids don't know any better.

"That's no excuse, but most of the people who commit these crimes have themselves been subject to violence," Mr Newbold said.

"Nearly always when a child is killed like this, they are killed by an adoptive parent, nearly always a stepfather. Sometimes a woman will do it but most often it's males."

Mr Newbold said mothers of abused children often kept quiet about the offending in a bid to keep the peace in their relationship.

"A lot of the women live in silence. They are either intimidated by their partner or they put their own happiness with that partner ahead of the life of their child.

"They are more interested in not upsetting their partner and they go along with what he is doing to their child to maintain the relationship."

Mr Newbold said stepfathers often saw children as constant reminders of a previous relationship and sexual jealousy built up.

"It's quite primal. Lions do it, they frequently kill the offspring of other males," he explained.

"But we are rational beings and this should not happen."

Mr Newbold said for "normal" people, the thought of hurting a child was abhorrent and incomprehensible.

"Perpetrators have a total lack of empathy and compassion for the feelings and suffering of a small and defenceless person. I would suggest that most of the time the abuser is someone who has not been shown a great deal of love or compassion in their own life, and they have an underdeveloped sense of empathy as a result.

"They haven't been exposed to it when they are young, whereas normal people who have had caring and loving parents just don't do this."

Mr Newbold said when normal people saw a baby or small child an automatic sense of love and compassion was evoked.

"A normal person will get that gooey love feeling for a baby, not just your own but any baby. That's a natural feeling, as is the sense of parental and adult protection over someone smaller.

"But for these perpetrators, that is just not there. Instead they become brutal, jealous and have uncontrollable violence."

Mr Newbold said child abuse was "really bad" in New Zealand. The worst part about the situation for him was the silence.

"In almost every case, somebody knows about it and they don't report it."


We encourage anyone who knows of abuse or neglect of children to take action to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all children. If you see or hear about a child whose safety and wellbeing is in immediate danger, don't wait, and don't assume someone else is acting.

Where there are crimes being committed or there is a suspicion of such, people should report to police directly via 111 or through their local police or anonymously through Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

You can also report any suspected child abuse, neglect, harm or maltreatment to Child Youth and Family on 0508 326 459.