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Year-ender: a day in the life of Faces of Innocents

Thursday, July 21, was a day of it.

The following Monday we would launch – for the second time – our Faces of Innocents series: an investigation into New Zealand’s problem with killing its kids.

During the process, we found many Kiwis simply didn’t want to talk about the problem. Others didn’t want to listen.

That morning there happened to be two relevant sentencings in the High Court at Wellington.

First: Michael Kereopa was sentenced to eight years jail for the manslaughter of baby Gracie-May McSorley, who died in July the previous year.

I attended the second sentencing: that of Tawera Wichman, a young father who fatally shook one of his twins, Teegan. Sitting at the back among family members I took it all in, but didn’t take notes. I wasn’t there for a story; just — for lack of a better term — research.

Wichman was 17 when his 16-year-old girlfriend gave birth to the two babies. Now 24, he pleaded guilty after an unsuccessful three-year legal battle and was jailed for three years and 10 months.

I kept my gaze forward as the woman next to me yelled “I love you, son” as Wichman left court.

Once outside, I approached Teegan’s mother, who was standing surrounded by friends and family. Before I could say anything, she told me to f… off. Before I could give her my card, her posse repeated the message.

That afternoon, I visited another mother: Sharon Stephenson, whose daughter Lisa Hope was killed in 1998.

It was the week before Christmas and Lisa, 8, and her younger brother Tim, 7, were tucked up in bed. Hope entered the children’s bedroom and stabbed his daughter in the heart with a kitchen knife.

Later, while remanded on a murder charge, he took his own life in Sunnyside Hospital.

Stephenson was wearing a pink scarf when she welcomed me into her house that Thursday. Her fair hair was tied back. Tim was out. As soon as I sat down I spotted the wooden box of ashes in the glass cabinet.

If it wasn’t for Tim, Stephenson said, she wouldn’t go on. She felt as though the world had forgotten Lisa.

As she talked, she stared at a framed photograph of her daughter — blonde, freckled, smiling. She described how she tried to resuscitate Lisa’s cold body in the mortuary.

Stephenson looked at me as she wondered out loud what kind of woman her daughter would have become. She would have been my age. I think about that quite a lot.

Back in the office, I wrote a script for a video for the series.

“More than 200 New Zealand children have died of neglect, maltreatment, or abuse since 1992 …

“New Zealand remains one of the most dangerous countries in the developed world in which to grow up.”

What else can I say that will make the audience give a damn? They’re either not talking, or not listening.

It would be lousy of me, however, to say how I feel about that. I feel nothing – nothing compared to the pain these families experience every day.

On Friday, I would be working on another story.

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