Northland family's ten-year wait for answers over toddler's brutal death

Ten years on, the gifts Sharon and Dez Matene bought for their grandson Atreyu's first birthday remain brightly wrapped in their Kaikohe home. 

They never got to see the delight on their eldest moko's face. 

Atreyu Taylor-Matene died of traumatic head injuries in July 2013, just four days after he turned one. 

The toddler suffered the injuries while living in the care of his mother and her new boyfriend in Whangarei. 

His mother broke up with the boyfriend in the days following her son's death. She has denied causing Atreyu's injuries.

Atreyu was rushed to Auckland's Starship Hospital where he died after life support was turned off. 

His grandmother Sharon Matene said she "would have loved to have seen how he grew up".

No charges have ever been laid in relation to Atreyu's death. His whanau are still asking the same questions a decade later: "What's happened? Are there any new leads?" 

"It's like leaving us in a loop, like we're stuck," Atreyu's father, 30-year-old Joshua Matene said. 

Last month the brutal death of baby Ruthless-Empire in Lower Hutt brought a public outpouring of grief - along with frustration that no one was swiftly held accountable. 

For the Matene whanau, that grief and frustration is something they've lived with for a decade. 

Atreyu is buried in Tautoro urupa - a short distance from where his teenage parents were married when they discovered they were going to have a baby. 

Pastor Mike Shaw conducted the ceremony and said the pair were forced to grow up fast. 

"They were teenagers and deeply in love and positive about their future," he said. 

Pastor Shaw said the pair wanted to "lay a foundation down together and build a family together". 

But the realities of young parenthood shattered those dreams. Joshua Matene and Jessica Taylor's marriage would be soon put to the test, and Dez and Sharon Matene noticed they needed help. 

"That's when we looked after baby; just sort of be there for them as well, because they were tired from working long hours and they'd just get home and sleep," Dez recalled. 

"I would come home from work and baby hasn't been fed or not himself, and so I'd step in, feed him, and give him a bath," Sharon said. 

Despite their efforts, Joshua Matene and Taylor separated. Taylor moved in for a short time with Pastor Shaw and then shifted to Whangarei to join a new boyfriend. 

Atreyu's grandparents unsuccessfully applied for custody - instead it was ruled Atreyu should live with his mother. Dez and Sharon Matene were still fighting to have that overturned right up to their grandson's death. 

The Matene whanau weren't even able to see Atreyu before he died; his father and grandparents were driving from Kaikohe to Starship Hospital when life-support was turned off despite their pleas to hospital staff to wait. 

"They just did it anyway. We were just lost. Even now, it's still hard," Dez said. 

"That's not what any father would want. Devastating," Joshua added. 

Pastor Shaw believes if Dez and Sharon Matene had been successful in their custody bid, Atreyu would be alive and safe today. 

"There's no doubt in my mind," he said. 

Joshua Matene has spent the past four years in Australia. He's recently come back home and is living with his parents in Kaikohe. 

"Coming home and being with the family again has been really, really important." 

He's just got a job - ready to rebuild his life and reconnect to the two daughters he's had since his son's death. 

But it's hard for Dez and Sharon to think of the future while Atreyu's death remains unsolved. 

In 2013, police had up to 25 officers on the investigation. The officer in charge stated then that police had strong clues as to how Atreyu had died. 

However, since then the whanau has had few updates. 

"We used to ring them all the time and ask them to ring us, but then that all stopped. I think it's been about two or three years now," Dez said. 

In a statement, Northland CIB's Detective Inspector Bridget Doell said: "This matter is still an active investigation. Police are not in a position to facilitate interview requests on this case as this may risk compromising any ongoing investigation into this case." 

Police declined The Hui's request for an interview. 

After police were contacted by The Hui, an officer phoned the Matene family and promised to call them back the following week with an update. They failed to do so.  

Taylor has been publicly reported as denying being responsible for her son's death. 

The longer questions about Atreyu's death remain unanswered, the harder it will be for Dez and Sharon.  

They both live with serious health issues and Sharon has been recently diagnosed with ovarian cancer. But they will keep fighting for justice. 

"We'd like answers, there's someone out there that knows something. Break the silence," Sharon added. 

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