Texts foreshadowed Auckland mother’s struggle to control anger before baby’s death

WARNING: Concerning content

In the weeks leading up to the death of a baby in Auckland, the child’s single mother had repeatedly made it explicitly clear that she did not believe her children were safe around her.

“I can’t calm down right now,” he admitted in a text message. “The children won’t shut up and they are making me angry. “I can wait (for help taking care of them), but not long before my anger becomes too much for the children’s safety.”

Unfortunately, that message and others like it were directed at the woman’s estranged ex-partner, who had little involvement in her son’s life. Authorities would not see the disturbing omen of violence until after the boy died at Starship Hospital later that month.

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Details of the January 2022 murder emerged for the first time today after the mother, whose name remains temporarily suppressed, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter. The baby’s identity also remains a secret, more than two years after her death.

The Mt Albert resident, now 23, was charged with murder in January 2023, just a week before the first anniversary of her 4-week-old son’s death.

She had initially claimed to medical staff that her son had been injured by his older brother, who she claimed had landed on the baby’s head a day earlier while jumping on the bed. She had arrived at the hospital by bus, at which time the child was having constant seizures.

“She later provided a statement via the Police 105 website that she had often accidentally hit (her baby’s) head on door frames, walls and the edge of her crib,” according to the agreed summary of facts for the case.

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“(She) said she took (her son) to the hospital by bus because she couldn’t pay the ambulance fare or the Uber ticket.”

Despite medical intervention, the child died the next day.

“There was bleeding around the brain, severe retinal hemorrhages, and a retinal tear,” court documents state. “These injuries were the result of (the defendant’s) actions.”

Other injuries, including a skull fracture, could have been the result of the baby’s brother falling on her head, as the mother initially described to medical staff, attorneys admitted.

“The Crown cannot refute that possibility,” the summary of facts states. “The pediatric evidence is that a parent may not appreciate the reality and severity of a skull fracture at the time it occurs. In fact, isolated fractures in babies often go unnoticed at first and only become evident when swelling of the scalp overlying the fracture develops days later.”

But the defendant specifically pleaded guilty to one count of manslaughter by assault, not manslaughter by failure to seek medical attention. The summary of facts also states that the defendant became frustrated with her baby “and she momentarily lost control.”

“He shook (the baby) forcefully, causing severe brain injuries that were the substantial and operative cause of his death.”

After the boy’s death, police began investigating the four short weeks of his life.

They spoke to a friend of the mother who described visiting her and the baby in Pakuranga, south Auckland, on Boxing Day 2021.

“On this date, (the infant) was 13 days old,” the documents state. “At some point during the visit, (the baby) began crying uncontrollably. (Her mother) extended her arms and held (the child) in front of her at her eye level. With both hands under her armpits, she shook him back and forth, telling him, “Stop crying.”

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Later that day, he texted the boy’s father.

A young mother charged with murder a year after the death of her four-week-old son in Starship appears in the High Court in Auckland.  Photo / Jason Oxenham
A young mother charged with murder a year after the death of her four-week-old son in Starship appears in the High Court in Auckland. Photo / Jason Oxenham

“I’m really struggling with the kids right now and I’m crying because I’m stressed about it,” she wrote. “They both scream and cry and both refuse to eat. …I’m having a panic attack.”

The father responded, “Do you know that we are no longer in a relationship?”

The father visited the house once a week but the mother said she needed more support.

“I’m asking for help with the kids and I’m sharing with them how I’m struggling mentally and also with the kids and there’s not even that much support,” she said, adding. shortly after: “I literally have no one I can talk to or who can help me with the kids…. “I don’t have anyone but myself… I’m really struggling mentally.”

In a series of messages a week later, the mother was even more explicit with her ex about how her children were at risk of violence if he did not increase his involvement in their lives.

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“I’m about to show my anger at the crying kids and it won’t be nice if I let out my anger inside the apartment around or at the kids,” she wrote. “His constant crying and screaming that never stops gets on my nerves.”

The father replied: “I am at Sumone’s house. “I’ll be back a little late.” But he clarified that he could try to be there in about an hour to help.

“I CAN NOT DO THIS. “I’M ABOUT TO GET REALLY ANGRY AT THE KIDS,” the mother wrote in all caps, before suggesting leaving the children alone in the apartment while she calmed down in the car. “Either way, they won’t be safe until you’re here.”

Messages along the same lines continued the following afternoon.

“The kids won’t shut up and I’m angry with both of them,” she said. “Like really angry. I need to get out of the apartment before I get too angry. If I get too angry, it won’t be pretty. Children are not at all safe when I am angry…

“This is urgent.”

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The father said he was heading to Pokeno to help someone.

“I have no plans to come today,” he wrote.

“What am I supposed to do??” answered the mother. “How the hell am I supposed to be the mom I need to be to the kids if I’m angry all the time and I don’t get a damn break?

Police also described a Facetime conversation the mother had with a friend on Jan. 10, just days before the fatal injuries are believed to have been inflicted. The witness later recalled talking to another family member when she saw the defendant in the background, holding the distraught crying baby in front of her.

“Forcibly, (the defendant) shook (his son) once, causing his head to snap back, while saying, ‘There’s no reason for you to cry, man, I’m sick of it.’”

The woman’s murder trial was scheduled to begin next week.

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If the defendant had been convicted of murder, she would most likely have faced a sentence of life in prison with a minimum prison term of at least 10 years, the norm in all murder cases except in rare cases in that the defense successfully argues that such a result would be manifestly unjust. Meanwhile, manslaughter convictions also have the potential to result in a life sentence, but it is not mandatory and is rarely imposed.

The woman stood alongside her lawyer in the Auckland Waterfront High Court today as she pleaded guilty. She bonded out of court and was ordered to return in July for sentencing.

Craig Kapitan is an Auckland-based journalist covering courts and justice. He joined the Herald in 2021 and has reported on courts since 2002 in three newsrooms in the United States and New Zealand.