Last week I wrote in this column of the impressions of a young Brazilian exchange student after nearly a year of living in Aotearoa-Godzone-New Zealand. Two of those reflections quickly struck a chord.
One in strong endorsement and the other in stark rejection. The first, her reflection that New Zealand is a compassionate country and the other that it is a safe country.
Within what seemed like hours, her assertion that New Zealand could be described as safe was completely at odds with the reports of a missing 22-year-old backpacker followed swiftly by the arrest of a suspect for her murder, then the grisly discovery of her body.
Grace Millane's father appeared with police, obviously and understandably distraught. The news swept the country and messages flowed on social and mainstream media. Outpourings of rage and grief dominated headlines and led television news broadcasts. We are now amid public vigils in centres around New Zealand with thousands of folk turning up to voice that this should never happen. Our Prime Minister was obviously shaken while speaking at her post-Cabinet press conference and apologised for the murder on behalf of New Zealanders.
Millane joined the ranks of other young women attacked and murdered while going about their lives in the way many of our daughters do in apparent carefree innocence. My immediate thought was, like many of us, that the grieving dad could be me.
My daughters travel alone to other parts of New Zealand and the world. I have no idea the anguish the families are experiencing and obviously I hope I never have to be confronted with such a tragedy in my own family.
And the murder of Millane raises question which I hope will be a catalyst for a broader conversation; Why do some homicides spur nationwide grief and others do not? Why is it that the faces of some murder victims are readily called to mind years after the event, while others we struggle to recall? Even decades later.
Jennifer Beard, Maureen McKinnell, Kirsa Jensen, Ben Smart and Olivia Hope, Urban Hoglin and Heidi Paakkonen, Kylie Smith, and Karla Cardno, to name far too many, and at the same time, nowhere near enough because all victims are worthy of recall. And in our country there have been far too many of them.
Thankfully the scope of the vigil and the call to speak out against the murderous violence has been broadened to acknowledge the fact that New Zealand's record in all murders and especially those associated with domestic violence needs addressing because it is horrific, with 92 women and 52 children killed between 2009 and 2015 in domestic-related homicide.
I can't help but think that reason there is so much shock and horror at deaths like Millane's is that it hits home to many of us who have previously thought it'll never happen to us.
We thought this because we believed, in our blissful ignorance, that murder only visits people of certain neighbourhoods, social groups, associations, occupations, classes and races.
We mitigate the horror of all too frequent reports of homicide in the media by thinking that, if our kids don't associate with certain types, live good lives, and don't draw attention to themselves, they will be safe.
We vicariously water down the risks of growing up in New Zealand by thinking people wouldn't be attacked if they stayed away from certain places, dressed in certain ways, and thought carefully about every move they made.
A study of family violence trends in New Zealand released recently shows that this arena for violence runs across suburbs, social classes, incomes, occupations, genders, and ethnicities. It is all our problem. We all need to own it.