Teenage babysitter Daniel Cameron, 16, was sentenced on Monday to at least 11 years behind bars for the murder of 9-year-old Hunter MacIntosh. Hunter's schoolteacher mother speaks to Kurt Bayer about her heartbreak, grief, guilt and anger.
Amy King still leaves the light on. Steeling herself for another sleepless night, she sees the glow from Hunter's cosy bedroom, where she found his body, her wee boy who was afraid of the dark.
She leans on the door frame and peers inside: His fluffy, faithful pet dog Ollie asleep on the still-made bed. Walls tacked with proud artwork, pirate drawings, certificates, alphabet poster. A dream catcher dangles above a vacant Spiderman pillow.
She goes to bed and it all tumbles over her mind again. How she came home from pool night to find him there, in his room, dead. Strangled and stabbed. A nightmare she can never wake from to escape.
She knows she was a good mum. Her heart says that; everyone says that. No two humans could be tighter. And yet, she feels she let him down.
"I left him here. I let him down."
An inseparable pair
Hunter Arthur MacIntosh was born on March 28, 2010. His tightknit family in the Southland farming and forestry town of Otautau, 40km northwest of Invercargill, thought he looked like Benjamin Button with his little old face.
As a baby he stayed awake all day – just to get the most of his mum. Not that she minded.
At Playcentre, she volunteered so she could spend more time with him.
And when he turned 5 and graduated to Otautau School, where she taught, they couldn't have been happier. Sometimes he'd escape to his mum's classroom.
They were inseparable.
"Amy was Hunter's life. And Hunter was Amy's life," says her mother, and Hunter's grandmother, Sharon King.
"You won't ever get a closer relationship than these two guys. Never have I seen anything like it. It was almost unhealthy because they just depended on each other so much. And that's the hardest thing: The night he died, he was alone."
He was a sensitive, happy young soul with a ready smile. Thoughtful, empathetic, he cared for all things great and small. His nana remembers taking him to a pet shop and Hunter crying for the next two nights, worried that the puppy he'd seen wouldn't go to a caring home.
"He was that amazing," Sharon says. "Kids aren't like that."
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Hunter liked his friends, biking, Lego, science, and reading Captain Underpants and Dog Man books. But he also thought of himself as a gamer, with a particular enjoyment of Minecraft and Roblox.
A normal, happy little boy.
But he always liked being near his mum. They shared everything. Hunter even needed to be bribed with treats to spend a night at his nana's, even though he loved her deeply.
Amy, who had split up with Hunter's father, had started to recognise just how close they were. She knew they needed to try to become a little more independent of each other.
So, over the past year or so, she'd started going to pool nights at the local pub on Wednesday nights.
She would go with partner Hayden, hang out with friends, chat and shoot some pool.
The mother of Hunter's favourite babysitter, a local boy named Daniel Cameron, would also be at pool night.
Court documents refer to Cameron having looked after Hunter at least 10 times. But Amy thinks it's closer to 50 occasions. Hunter had written stories about how he'd had such fun with his babysitters, misspelling it 'badysitters'.
"I just feel so stupid that Daniel has tricked Hunter and tricked us. He's really sick, a proper psychopath," Amy says.
A chilling murder
On Wednesday October 30 last year, Cameron's mother dropped him off at Amy King's house in Otautau about 6pm.
Amy, 39, kissed Hunter goodnight and went to the pub with Hayden for their regular social outing. They were joined by their friend, Cameron's mum, soon after.
A guy came round the pub selling farm fresh eggs. Amy, who was six months pregnant, blamed "baby brain" on being unable to remember if she had already bought eggs that week and texted Cameron to check the kitchen. They exchanged messages and Cameron said he couldn't see any eggs.
"And I think he'd killed Hunter by then – or he was about to," Amy says.
"If there'd been any altercation or if [Hunter] was out of sorts, he could've just said … I'd have been home in three minutes. He knew he had to text me back because otherwise I would've phoned and if he didn't pick up that phone, I would've been straight home. That's why we think it was premeditated."
His last message to Amy was at 7.57pm. Seventeen minutes earlier, he was seen walking down Rye St in town.
At 8.20pm, Cameron sent a Facebook Messenger note to a friend which said "help".
Ten minutes later, he sent a chilling Snapchat message to three friends which said, "What would you do if I killed someone?"
And at 8.35pm, he asked another friend: "What would you think of me if I killed someone" and then a second message saying, "straight forward answer".
It was getting late and Amy was ready to go home. Cameron, by now walking along the road to Riverton, called a friend at 10.01pm to say he wasn't coming to school tomorrow.
Amy texted him at 10.10pm to check if Hunter was asleep.
But she never got a response – and she started making for home.
When Amy got in the door shortly before 10.30pm, she went to check on her son.
There was no sign of Cameron.
She looked in Hunter's bedroom but couldn't see him in bed.
Amy went to turn away but stopped and pushed his bedroom door fully open. It was then that she saw Hunter lying on his back on the floor at the foot of the bed. He had a large knife in his stomach and appeared to be dead.
She ran from the house screaming.
"I was screaming … and I never once thought it was Daniel. There was no way it was Daniel. That's how much we trusted him," she told the Herald.
She knew her boy had been dead for some time. And she worried for Cameron's safety, thinking he could be lying dead or injured somewhere, maybe abducted by Hunter's killer.
"All this was going through my head," she says. "People were coming in my house and I was saying, 'He's murdered! He's dead! It's a crime scene, you can't disturb anything'."
Around the time Amy came home, Cameron had sent a text to his mother saying, "I'm sorry come get me."
But she never got it till later.
Cameron went home just before 11.30pm. Police arrested him an hour later.
An autopsy indicated that Hunter had been killed within 90 minutes of being in Cameron's care.
The little boy had suffered three large knife wounds to his torso and chest area. He also had marks around his neck that were consistent with asphyxia as well as a moderate head injury.
When he was spoken to by police, Cameron declined to carry out a formal interview.
And still nobody really knows where his violent, murderous actions came from.
Defence counsel Bill Dawkins said that is the most perplexing and troubling question in the case for everyone.
He still doesn't know why Cameron "lost control and behaved in such a grossly violent manner".
After his arrest, Cameron was carefully examined and assessed by a psychologist and a psychiatrist. They found him to be sane but couldn't establish the answer to "this most troubling of questions".
But Dawkins said there was nothing in his background or profile which could possibly have predicted the extreme, violent behaviour.
He had been assessed as being mildly autistic, and there was mention of him being emotionally understated. Dawkins believed he had been "somewhat insular in his lifestyle".
"His behaviour on October 30 just could not be predicted by anyone, including his family," the lawyer said.
Dawkins said it would not offer much comfort to Hunter's family, but such a killing in New Zealand is rare.
Justice Rachel Dunningham told Cameron the impact of his offending has been devastating.
"Your crime is every parent's worst nightmare. And Hunter's family is living that nightmare," she said.
"Home is meant to be a safe place for children and it was not."
The judge didn't believe the killing was premeditated. Hunter's family disagree.
"Daniel had no regard for Hunter. I am 100 per cent sure that that boy came in here to kill Hunter," his grandmother Sharon says.
"Hunter would never have done anything wrong. He would never ever have egged Daniel on, it just wasn't in his nature. Hunter would've trusted Daniel. He would never have thought he was in any danger. And he's 9, an amazing wee boy.
"What does a 9-year-old do to deserve death?"
The pain that doesn't go away
The impact of Hunter's murder is incalculable. The past eight months have been drenched in tears and painful reminders.
For nana Sharon, it's the little things.
"I went to The Warehouse the other day and bought two pair of winter pyjamas for my other grandkids and I cried for ages because I've never bought two – I've always bought three."
She knows her daughter must be suffering even worse.
"I can't be more proud of my girl and what she's having to live through. Because I, as a nana, it's hard for me, so it must be a million times harder for her."
The vision of seeing Hunter dead haunts Amy every day.
Mr Whippy came to town the other day and her wee boy didn't run to the gate.
She makes one cup of tea, but no lukewarm Milo.
"We're just a normal Kiwi family and [Cameron] has just destroyed us," Sharon says.
"How do you cope, how do you carry on? How do you go out one night and come home and your life is destroyed? I walk around with a pit in my stomach, a constant headache, I can't go to sleep. That poor little bugger, what happened in his last moments … on his own. Nothing in our lives will ever be the same."
They just hope that Hunter, the happy, smiling wee boy who was scared of the dark, never woke up.
And that he takes some comfort from the lights they lined inside his coffin before they closed its lid.