A token of love has been stolen from a Rotorua cemetery, leaving a whānau heartbroken for a second time.

Kurtis Jones' loved ones have visited his resting place at Kauae cemetery at least once a week since his death four and a half years ago.

But last Monday, when his mother went to visit his grave and wipe down the headstone, she realised the pounamu which sat on his gravesite was gone.

It was custom-made for Jones by Kurtis' partner, Melissa Ewins, when he died.


Kurtis was a talented Rotorua rugby player who died in April 2015 after he lost his battle with testicular cancer.

Ewins put her heart and soul into the tribute - from the circular design (to represent an infinity bond) to carving the stand, anchoring it, beading it in, and designing the plaque herself.

Kurtis Jones with his partner Melissa Ewins. Photo / Supplied
Kurtis Jones with his partner Melissa Ewins. Photo / Supplied

The theft has taken her back to her first stages of grief and Ewins has been battling with the shock, saying Kurtis' memory had been violated.

"This is where our loved one is lying and resting and someone has vandalised it; it's caused so much pain," she said.

Ewins also put trinkets at the gravesite from overseas travels she and Kurtis planned but never got the chance to do. These are also missing.

"We've got our memories of him to live by and his grave... that's the only physical place we can actually give tribute to who he was," Ewins said.

Stephen Jones, Kurtis' father, held back sobs as he said: "It was a token love for him, it was something we really cherished."

Stephen said his wife was heartbroken when she discovered it was gone.


"It made us sick really... she just broke down," he said.

"It's just such a disgusting, despicable act by a person who's got no heart."

The pounamu was cemented in place and Stephen said it would have needed to either be chipped or broken off.

"We did find little bits of pounamu on the ground, so obviously they damaged it taking it off," he said.

A custom-made Pounamu is missing from a grave site in Rotorua. Photo / Supplied
A custom-made Pounamu is missing from a grave site in Rotorua. Photo / Supplied

The theft was reported to police last week.

Kurtis' sister, Turene Huiarua Jones, has made a public plea on social media for the return of the tribute.

Kurtis' grave sits beside his grandmother's, grandfather's and aunt's.

The theft of the pounamu was not the first time the family plot had been violated.

A cross over Kurtis' grave was stolen a few years ago and garden bench feet were stolen from his grandparents' graves about 10 years ago.

"That's three things that have been taken from our little plot," Stephen said.

"We're gutted, but it's something we'll deal with, like the loss of our son," he said.

Rotorua Lakes Council's cultural ambassador Trevor Maxwell said the incident had left him "saddened" and "very disappointed".

He said he "couldn't believe someone could stoop so low" and be that "mean-spirited" to take precious taonga placed by the family of a lost loved one.

Rotorua Mayor and chairwoman of the Kauae Cemetery Trust Board, Steve Chadwick said things of this nature were "very distressing and disappointing".

When asked about a possibility of increased security, she said the trust board wanted people to be able to visit their loved ones at any time of the day or night, to make the space open and accessible.

"It's impossible to guarantee protection of taonga that families place on graves but the board will keep working with council staff to consider safety and security."

In April, the same cemetery was vandalised, and a woman was disgusted to find five headstones knocked over, and parts of a car at the scene.

Less than two weeks later, at least 10 gravesites were damaged with ornaments and flowers smashed up at Pukerimu Urupā at Waiteti.

Rotorua police senior sergeant Karl Konlechner said police wanted to help restore the pounamu and hold those responsible to account.

"It's hard to fathom the lack of empathy or compassion displayed by some offenders," he said.

The theft was reported to the police on July 2 and the pounamu was suspected to have gone missing between June 14 and 21, between visits to the site.

Police have no active lines of enquiry but said they welcomed any information.

Anyone who has seen the pounamu, or has information about the theft can contact Police on 105 quoting file number 190702/0737, or anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.