A 32-year-old has man appeared in Whakatāne District Court charged with the murder of a 2-year-old at Te Mahoe, in the Eastern Bay of Plenty.

The man, who was granted interim name suppression, mouthed the words "I love you" to those in the public gallery as he entered the courtroom.

During the appearance he sat in the dock with his eyes closed and head down, clutching a blue book.

No plea was entered and he was remanded in custody to appear in the Tauranga District Court via audio visual link on Wednesday.


There was a feeling of disbelief at the small village of Te Mahoe today as people struggled to make sense of events that had unfolded on Sunday night.

Police were called to the Matahina Dam area about 6pm on Sunday following the report of a 2-year-old missing in the Rangitaiki River with an adult.

Police told the Rotorua Daily Post on Sunday night there were reports a person went into Lake Matahina with the young child. An adult was found at the scene but the child wasn't immediately found.

After an extensive search and rescue operation, the body of the child was found in the river at about 11pm.

The home believed to be where the 2-year-old lived with her family is only metres away from Te Mahoe School where it is believed siblings of the dead toddler attended.

Outside the home bright plastic toys, a trampoline and other tell-tale signs of children filled much of the lawn.

People going to and from the house asked for privacy and for respect from the media.

In a message from school Board of Trustees chairwoman Caroline Abraham, the school said they would be supporting the family and would not comment further.

In a social media post, staff from the kōhanga reo the dead girl attended said she would be taken to Puawairua Marae on the outskirts of Whakatāne and details of her funeral would follow.

Te Mahoe Village houses about 30 families and sits at the base of the Matahina Dam.

Before five police cars arrived about 12.30pm today, there was no indication of anything amiss in the remote village aside from a scene guard sitting at the entranceway to a paddock beside the Rangitaiki River.

The guard said he had been there most of the night.